§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this house do now adjourn.—[Mr. Dowd.]3.47 pm
§ The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)
I am delighted that we have the opportunity today to debate this important motion. I see this debate as an important part of the consultation process in which we are currently engaged as we move towards the publication of a White Paper on international development in the autumn.
This afternoon, I want to talk about the single greatest challenge the world faces: eliminating poverty. I know that that seems outrageously ambitious—cynics might even say naive, but they are wrong. It is both an affordable and an achievable aim, and it is essential that we face up to the challenge if the 10 billion or so human beings who will then exist are to live in anything approaching peace and harmony in the second half of the next century. If we do not, the numbers of people might be much greater, and the strain on the earth catastrophic. As I have said before, those who believe in compassion and social justice should support that aim; but so should the selfish and the greedy, if they wish to leave the proceeds of their endeavours to their grandchildren.
It is my view that we are living at the beginning of a new political era. That creates a real opportunity for progress. In the past 30 to 40 years, we have gone through two extremes, both of which failed many developing countries: first, the bloated state; then, market idolatry—the period from which we are just emerging, and the adoration of which concept brought the Conservative party to such a catastrophic low.
§ Clare Short
I will give way later. Perhaps, if the hon. Gentleman thinks a little before intervening, his intervention will be a little wiser than his interventions normally are.
Both the state and the markets are good servants but bad masters. Governments and markets must work together. Both must be transparent, and made to serve the people. Recent political events suggest that the people of the world are at last voting for social justice, both at home and abroad.
§ Clare Short
In a moment.
I am certain that that is what the people of Britain want. I know that it is a cliché to say that the world is becoming a smaller place, but we can now travel across it and see things in person, or on our televisions, that our grandparents would never have dreamed of. That is bound to change the way in which people think about world problems, and such changes make it feasible to seek to build, alongside economic globalisation, a global moral community.
§ Mr. Fabricant
The right hon. Lady has spoken of the relationship between international development and 116 private co-operation. Does she recall that, at Question Time last week, she was unaware of the valuable work done by privatised water companies in providing free, clean water for people in developing countries? Will she now acknowledge the work done by Water Aid, whose patron is the Prince of Wales? It is doing that work in 13 countries throughout Africa and Asia.
Does the right hon. Lady accept that Water Aid's money comes from privatised companies such as South Staffordshire Water and Severn Trent Water in Lichfield? As she was unaware of all that last week, may I urge her to read those companies' annual reports?
§ Clare Short
I did know about Water Aid—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) has just spoken at length. Will he now allow me to answer him? That is basic politeness, if nothing else.
I have come across Water Aid's endeavours, and all such endeavours are welcome; but, in the face of the world's need for clean water and sanitation. Water Aid's is a small contribution. Charitable contributions aimed at improving the very bad image of water companies in Britain are certainly welcome, but they are not enough to make the progress that we need in order to supply everyone in the world with clean water and proper sanitation.
§ Clare Short
It is the truth. It should not be thought that such a tiny contribution, perhaps prompted by social guilt, is enough to provide for all the people in the world.[Interruption.] I shall get on with serious discussion of these serious matters.
All the conditions to which I have referred mean that this is an ideal time for the creation of my Department as a separate Department of State, headed by a Cabinet Minister. My Department's job is development, and nothing else. Commercial and political considerations are the perfectly proper work of Government, but export promotion and short-term political relationships are not the work of my Department. We have been given the most noble and honourable work that anyone could be asked to do—but this is not work just for soft hearts; it is also work for hard heads. There is no decent future for the world if we do not succeed.
Clearly, every generation has had the moral duty to reach out to the poor and needy, and to try to create a more just world. The present generation, however, must rise to the challenge; otherwise, global warming, population pressure, spreading deserts, polluted and over-fished oceans and water shortages will create catastrophes that will endanger the lives of all people and countries—rich and poor, northern and southern, developed and developing.
There is no privatised and purchasable solution to those problems. The grandchildren of the richest people in the world need a healthy planet as much as the hungriest street child living on the margins of existence. We must solve the problems together—and benefit everyone—or they will not be solved at all.
The United Nations special session on sustainable development has just ended in New York, five years after the Rio summit. Rio, and the process leading up to it, 117 undoubtedly constituted an important moment in history. A good deal has been achieved as a result, in particular the mobilising of opinion—especially among young people—about the need for sustainable development and the importance of protecting our global and national environment. Binding conventions have been established for some global environmental issues. The outcome of the New York meeting was positive but limited, partly because the Governments of the developed and developing world see their interests so differently.
The process that started at Rio was about the rich countries collaborating with poor countries to help them to achieve sustainable development and reduce poverty. The global environmental facility, which exists to help poor countries to meet the extra costs of protecting the global environment as they develop is important, and we are committed to a further substantial replenishment later this year.
However, at Rio we also promised additional help to assist with the development of poor countries more generally, and the rich countries have not delivered. As a result, the developing countries think that we are more concerned with protecting our own way of life than about their development. If they think that we have created our riches by using up the world's resources, and that we are now imposing rules to protect our riches and prevent their development, they will, quite reasonably, refuse to co-operate. That was the mood at the beginning of the UN special session.
One of the Government's actions in New York was to reassert the basic Rio message that tackling poverty and protecting the environment are inextricably linked, and that eliminating poverty is essential to caring for the planet and is the bridge that unites the interests of north and south. An important part of the Prime Minister's speech at the General Assembly, which was universally warmly welcomed, was to commit the UK to helping towards the important over-arching goal, of which I spoke earlier, of reducing by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015, and to reverse the decline in British development assistance.
Politicians often pretend to know everything. Conservative Members will know about that. Vanity is the occupational disease of politics, but, of course, politicians do not know everything, and the good ones have to understand that it is their duty to listen to people's fears and worries, find the ideas to create solutions, and mobilise action to implement those ideas. That is the second reason for this being the ideal time for the creation of my Department. The ideas are in place, and our job now is to mobilise enough political will to ensure that they are implemented.
There are two documents which everyone should read. The first is from the development assistance committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and is called "Shaping the 21st Century". It reflects the collective views of Development Ministers, heads of aid agencies and other senior officials who are responsible for development co-operation.
The report reflects on the lessons of such co-operation over the past 50 years and proposes strategies for the first part of the next century. It proposes a global development partnership effort that focuses on a limited number of key success indicators that are drawn from the conclusions of the great UN conferences of the past decade or so.
118 The over-arching goal is that of reducing by half by 2015 the proportion of people living in extreme poverty. There are several key social development goals feeding into that aim. They include universal primary education in all countries by 2015; progress towards gender equality and the empowerment of women; and improvements in health care systems and mortality rates. They also include targets for implementing national strategies for sustainable development in all countries by 2005. That is to ensure that current trends in the loss of environmental resources are effectively reversed at both global and national levels by 2015.
The second document I recommend is the United Nations human development report 1997, which has just been published. That report, like the OECD development assistance committee report, bases its judgment that the elimination of poverty is feasible in part on the progress and lessons of the past 50 years. It notes that, since 1960, in little more than a generation, child death rates in developing countries have been more than halved. Malnutrition rates have declined by almost a third. The proportion of children who are out of primary school has fallen from more than half to less than a quarter, and the proportion of rural families who do not have access to safe water has fallen from nine tenths to about a quarter. The report also notes not only that there have been substantial advances in income in many countries, but that there has been great progress in life expectancy and in access to basic social services.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stone)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it in order for the Minister to repeat almost word for word a speech that she made on 26 June in a different environment?
§ Madam Speaker
I am not responsible for Ministers or Back Benchers' comments in the House. They are all responsible for their own speeches. I have not heard the Minister's speech before.
§ Clare Short
I am grateful, Madam Speaker. I included some of this text in my speech at the Commonwealth Institute recently. The speech is of profound importance, and has never been put before the House. If Conservative Members would take notice of it, we might have a wiser debate about some of the most important issues in politics.
§ Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has made the same speech for five years.
§ Clare Short
Indeed. The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) should not complain about anyone saying the same thing over and again.
Progress during the past 50 years in eliminating poverty—this is important—has been greater than in the previous 500 years of human existence. We have not done enough, but much has been achieved, and that achievement teaches us how to do the rest. That is the basis on which I believe that abject poverty could be eliminated from the world in our lifetime, or at least within the lifetime of our children. Clearly, the world could not commit itself to a more noble task as we approach a new millennium, but the challenges remain daunting. Advances have not been uniform, and poverty remains pervasive.
§ Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)
The right hon. Lady has not yet mentioned trade in the elimination of poverty. 119 As Lomé is being reviewed, and as the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries arrangement, whereby large nations are put in the same bracket as small single-commodity nations, contains complications, does she have a view on whether that arrangement needs to be reviewed?
§ Clare Short
I do have a view. As the hon. Gentleman will know, Britain will hold the European Union presidency when the mandate for the Lomé renegotiation is put in place, so it is key that we get our thinking right. Some differentiation between the needs of countries in different stages of development should form part of the renegotiation. I have made a speech about that, and I would be happy to send it to the hon. Gentleman. It is an important matter, and it is vital that we get it right. The development assistance committee target of halving world poverty by 2015 should be incorporated in the Lomé renegotiation. The world should seriously sign up, through all its institutions, to meeting that target.
The two reports are the basis on which abject poverty could be eliminated from the world in our lifetime, but the challenges remain daunting. Advances have not been uniform, and poverty remains pervasive. We have gone forward and backwards in the past 50 years. That means that we can learn what succeeds and what conditions breed failure, but it remains true that more than a quarter of the developing world's people still live in extreme poverty. Some groups suffer more than others, particularly children, women and elderly people. New global pressures are creating or threatening further increases in poverty, just at the time when the possibilities for advance should be greater than ever.
The conclusion of the United Nations Development Programme report is that the elimination of poverty is affordable and achievable. What is lacking is the political will to achieve that end.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves the UN, could some reflection be given to the UN's policy of imposing sanctions on countries such as Iraq? Whatever the difficulties with regard to the leadership, the effect is to throw the people of the river valleys—in this case, the Tigris and the Euphrates—into some of the most abject poverty that the present world knows, and the UN has a responsibility in that matter.
§ Clare Short
My hon. Friend knows that I share his concern about the suffering of the people of Iraq. We have to refine our capacity to take action against repressive Governments such as the evil Government in Iraq, without hurting the people living under such Governments. We could do more to refine the sanctions instrument, but that is a big project that we need to work on together.
I believe strongly that if people in this country and elsewhere believe that the elimination of poverty is achievable and not a hopeless enterprise they will demand action and help to generate that political will.
We hear much about compassion fatigue. We see constant pictures of disaster and famine. We get reports of human rights abuse, civil war, refugees and suffering. People worry increasingly about the state of the world, and about what will be left for their grandchildren. I do 120 not believe that there is any less compassion in the world today than there has ever been, but I do think that there is more despondency, and that this paralyses the will to act.
It is, of course, right that the media should bring the suffering of fellow human beings to our attention as a spur to action, but it is wrong that the reporting of development issues should create the impression that no progress is being made, and that none is possible. People need hope to be able to demand action.
So how is poverty to be eliminated? It is obvious that, because most of the poor live in the poorest countries of the world, economic growth is necessary if people are to escape from poverty. Growth rates of at least 6 to 7 per cent. are required if countries are to become better off in a sustainable way, particularly as high population growth may mean that the real increase is only a third or even a half of the growth figure.
Anything less than 2.5 per cent. effectively means a growth in poverty, but, while economic growth is a necessary condition, it is not a sufficient condition to escape from poverty. Indeed, some economic growth can increase inequality and poverty, as we have seen so clearly over the past 20 years.
§ Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)
The Secretary of State quite rightly touches on population growth, but gives the impression that it is a symptom of poverty. Does she not accept that many people think that it is the root cause of poverty? Will she continue with the emphasis that the previous Government placed on population growth? Indeed, will she develop it even further?
§ Clare Short
I intend to do much more in this area than the previous Government. Population growth is an enormous, serious challenge to the people of the world. The current world population is 5.8 billion; it is due to rise to 7 billion by the turn of the century. Some projections say that, in the next century, it will increase to 10 billion and stabilise, or to 17 billion and be out of control. The population growth is in the poorest parts of the world and among the poorest populations, 50 per cent. of whom do not have access to contraception, and many of whom do not know whether their children will live.
We know that educating girls and giving women access to health care and to some sustainable livelihood leads to their taking control of the size of their families. That is how we bring about a stabilisation in population. The only way to achieve that is to have a just world in which all the people of the world have access to basic education, basic health care and clean water, so that they can take control of their own lives and know that their children will live. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this issue is of profound importance, and that, if we do not face it, the whole world will be in very severe difficulty.
§ Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)
There is much talk about the size of the population in Africa, but does my right hon. Friend agree that Africa is, in fact, depopulated as a result of the removal of more than 100 million people during the period of enslavement and colonisation, and that the growth that has taken place in other continents has not been matched by the growth in Africa? So when people say that Africa must control its population growth, that is not correct.
§ Clare Short
I agree with my hon. Friend that slavery, in which African people sold other African people to 121 wretched slave owners, many of whom originated in our country, was a terrible tragedy for all the people involved and for Africa as well. I cannot say that I know what the population of Africa would be if there had not been slavery. I just do not have that information, so I cannot make a judgment about whether Africa is over or under-populated.
I know for certain, however, that the people of Africa—the women of Africa, the girls of Africa—are entitled to be educated, to have basic health care, reproductive health care, and to make their own decisions about the size of their families. The people of Africa will decide for themselves what the population of Africa should be.
Before the interventions, I was talking about the scale of economic growth required in poorer countries if we are to make progress in eliminating poverty. The same arguments apply not only to the developing but to the developed world. The United Nations human development report is a powerful reminder that more equitable distribution of the benefits of growth must be a top priority also for the United Kingdom. On the UNDP's figures, Britain is one of the most unequal countries in the world. Therefore, our development effort is not about us preaching to less developed countries: the lessons must be applied at home as well as abroad.
Good economic management means not only growth in the economy—as measured by some theoretical improvement in overall gross national product per capita—but the fact that many of the benefits of that growth reach members of the population who need them. Governments, and all public authorities, have obligations to all their people, and especially to poor people. Budgetary systems should ensure that the interests of the poor are protected and enhanced.
The state has a duty to make arrangements that provide all citizens with education, basic health care and clean water. The state must also create economic arrangements that give all citizens access to markets, in which they can sell their produce and their labour, and to security, appropriate technology and land, so that they can create sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their families.
§ Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)
My right hon. Friend will know that, in many of those countries, economic development is very much dependent on transport infrastructure. She will also know that transport infrastructure is a major British export to many of those countries, to the extent that it is supported by the aid and trade provision. She has, moreover, announced a review of the ATP programme.
My constituency is dependent—in some industries, it is very much dependent—on ATP. To take one specific example, we export railway lines around the world. Railway lines are very important in the development of many third-world countries.
Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that, if decisions are taken on the ending or running down of the ATP programme, the Firms that are directly involved—often employing thousands of people—are fully consulted? Does she also agree that what really matters is not the ATP programme per se but that the programme is available only for projects that pass elementary tests of development soundness? If the projects pass those tests, surely we can maintain the programme.
§ Clare Short
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I can assure him that the representations that he has 122 made—like the representations that any firm might like to make—are very welcome and will be fully considered. Allowing such representations to be made is the reason why I have made it clear that we are reviewing the aid and trade provision.
My hon. Friend has put his finger on an important point. I am reviewing our entire aid effort, to ensure that our entire effort is aimed towards eliminating poverty and helping the human development of the poorest people. It could be argued that ATP is a part of a previous philosophy in which any beneficial economic development was thought necessarily to result in the development of poor countries. That belief will have to be re-examined. We intend to focus on the need for human development of the poorest people.
Such development might require transport for access to market for very poor rural people, although it probably will not include big, sophisticated transport projects. Regardless of how we approach the matter, some projects are unlikely to be included if we are to redirect our efforts towards poverty elimination. Discussions will continue, however, and a full review will be conducted. The firms in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) will, of course, be able to make representation s—[Interruption]
I do not know why the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) makes cynical remarks. We are debating a very serious matter. ATP was introduced by my illustrious predecessor, Judith Hart, to engage British firms in the development effort, and there is nothing cynical to be said about it. If it is true that we must redirect our efforts into poverty elimination and human development, there will be big implications for ATP. Everyone should take that into account. As I said, much of the research suggests that ATP is neither commercially nor developmentally beneficial. We must consider and examine that argument.
I was describing the duties of a modern state to its people in the developed or developing world, and the duty of a state to provide conditions to enable people to live a decent life and to improve their livelihoods for themselves and their families.
People must also be provided with opportunities to play an active role in their society at all levels, including national level, through transparent and accountable institutions. That should lead to a virtuous circle in which social development leads to, as well as results from, economic development.
Part of my Department's role will be capacity building. We shall be pragmatic and not dogmatic in our approach. We shall not say, "Public sector bad, private sector good," or vice versa. We recognise that context and circumstances matter. With many services, it matters less whether they are provided by the state or the private sector than that the state retains responsibility for ensuring that the service is provided, and, where necessary, regulated.
On that basis, we support and welcome the recently published world development report of the World bank, which advocates the development of the sort of state that I have described to achieve the development that the world needs. We shall therefore often give support—we are doing so now—to Governments who wish to reduce in size a bloated public sector, but at the same time we shall support also the build-up of the state's capacity to supply essential services effectively and efficiently, and the development of its capacity to regulate the private sector.
123 Above all, I want to work in partnership with Governments who share our commitment to poverty elimination. Our role should be to support, complement and enlarge the capacity of developing countries to meet the needs of their people. Ideally, our partnership will be based on an open and agreed agenda, involving Government and civil society as well as other donors.
Where poor people are suffering from a Government who offend human rights and are not interested in poverty elimination, such partnerships will obviously be impossible. In those countries, we shall show our solidarity by supporting non-governmental organisations that can deliver direct to the poor and oppressed. Our preference, however, will always be to work with states, for only they can deliver universals such as primary education for all, better health care for all, and clean water and sanitation for all.
I hope that this work will help to create the conditions that will increase private investment in the poorest countries, but it is clear—everyone must be clear about this—that, whatever the private investment flows, the poorest developing countries will depend for some time to come on substantial resource transfers to create the capacity to generate sustainable development.
It is very regrettable that the resources that the international community is making available to support the process that I have outlined are declining. We know the price tag of poverty elimination and how we can contribute, because the human development report gives us the figures. That is why I am pleased to reaffirm this afternoon the Government's commitment to the 0.7 per cent. of gross national product target and to reverse the decline in the aid budget, which has fallen shamefully, from 0.51 per cent. of GNP and rising, when Labour left office in 1979, to just over half—0.27 per cent. of GNP.
§ Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)
The Minister has praised the public-private sector mixture of provision. Is the right hon. Lady aware of the United Nations target of 1 per cent. of transfer of wealth from the developed to the developing countries? Is she aware also that the United Kingdom is at the top of that league, not at 1 per cent. but at 1.38 per cent. in the last year for which there are figures? That is surely a much more effective measure of our achievement in creating development in the world than merely relying on the public sector.
§ Clare Short
Clearly, increases in investment flows to developing countries are welcome and to be encouraged by everyone. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman knows it, but the overwhelming bulk of investment flows come from the richest 12 of the developing countries, and that the poorest 50 countries receive none of them. That is why investment flows are not an alternative to development assistance. We need development assistance to create in the poorest countries the sort of development and economic arrangement that will give them the capacity to attract private investment flows. It is not one or the other, but both.
§ Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)
Will the right hon. Lady set a date for achieving her target of 0.7 per cent. of GNP?
§ Clare Short
In Yorkshire, they call that brass neck. Could we hear some shame and humility from the hon. Gentleman about the record of the Government he supported? I am coming to our plans.
124 I am reviewing all expenditure in my Department. I want to be certain that all our spending contributes towards a sharply focused poverty eradication agenda. I shall redirect any spending that does not contribute towards our key objective of promoting sustainable development.
I shall then be in a strong position to ask my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for additional resources at the end of next year. I believe that I shall be able to demonstrate to him that we can make a measurable difference with those funds. First, however, I have to do the redirection job, because a lot of what we are spending now is not going directly into poverty eradication. We want to make sure that every farthing is better spent.
The review process that I have described will include a careful look at how the energies and talents of the private sector can best be utilised to help us deliver our objectives. We shall consider ways in which investment might be encouraged. I have already made it clear that we are reviewing the aid and trade provision, and aid tying.
We must also be clear that development assistance is only part of the way in which we can help to tackle poverty. To have a real impact, there must be greater coherence between our aid, trade, investment and agricultural policies. That coherence must start at a national level and then be developed in the European Union and other international forums, where decisions are taken every day about issues that directly affect the lives of billions of poor people—issues such as market access, environmental targets and rules governing direct foreign investment.
§ Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the great concern in the Caribbean about bananas, and the recent adverse decision of the World Trade Organisation. Will she assure the House that the Government will do everything possible to secure an equitable outcome on bananas, which are so important for the economies of many Caribbean countries?
§ Clare Short
I can give my hon. Friend that absolute assurance. She will know that the World Trade Organisation's ruling was disappointing, but not as bad as it might have been. We are now reviewing the situation, to apply for a waiver so that the Caribbean has a long enough period to make sustainable arrangements.
My proposal, which I have started to discuss with some representatives of the Caribbean banana industry, is that they might go for the niche market of organic bananas. The small farmers of the Caribbean are in competition with vast banana plantations that use masses of pesticides. The big banana-importing countries such as Sweden and Germany are very much in favour of healthy, pesticide-free bananas. There are other developments to be taken into account, but that might be a market and part of the answer for the Caribbean. Some people are prepared to pay a higher price for a better quality of banana.
We are seized of the importance of my hon. Friend's argument, and will do everything in our power to help. We are bound by history and duty to ensure that the Caribbean does not end up in a devastating situation. I shall be happy to talk to my hon. Friend about that later, but I must get on now.
125 There must be coherence between all aspects of policy. It is no good relying on development assistance and then adopting trade policies that cause impoverishment across the world. For example, massive subsidies to European farmers have increased the world supply of food, lowering the prices that agricultural exporters from developing countries can receive on the global market. Development assistance is then needed to help poor farmers to diversify out of crops in which they might have had a comparative advantage.
That is crazy economics. My Department, which has been created to help ensure that all our policies towards developing countries take us in the same direction, is adding its voice to the pressure building up for reform of the common agricultural policy. We are studying in detail the impact of the current regime on developing countries. We shall identify the reforms that will benefit them as well as our consumers and taxpayers. We shall need allies to ensure that the necessary reforms are carried through.
It follows from what I said earlier that we want to see a particular emphasis in all our development work on human development.
§ Clare Short
I will give way in a few minutes. I must get on, because time is pressing and many hon. Members want to speak.
We want an emphasis on human development, and that is why we announced in Denver at the G7 summit—or G8 summit, I am not sure which; at the G7 plus one summit—both that all our future support for the special programme of assistance for Africa would be untied, and that we would increase by 50 per cent. over the next three years our commitment of bilateral aid to basic education, basic health care and the provision of safe drinking water in Africa.
§ Mr. Cash
The right hon. Lady so far has not mentioned debt relief. She may remember that, in the previous Parliament, I tabled an early-day motion, which attracted about 300 signatures—including hers, I think—relating to the question of debt relief. Nor has she yet mentioned the heavily indebted poor countries initiative. Is she aware that the World bank does not regard debt relief as a poverty issue? Does she have any comment on that, and will she press the World bank to regard debt relief as a poverty issue of fundamental importance to the future of developing countries?
§ Clare Short
I have talked about the importance of debt relief and the HIPC initiative on many occasions in the House. The hon. Gentleman will know that Britain under our Government and the previous Government—the very forward position on debt relief that was taken is one of the few things for which I credit the previous Government—has of course cancelled its own debts in regard to the poorest countries and set a good record. We are doing all in our power to mobilise international opinion to get much faster progress. We believe that that is essential.
I agree that debt relief is linked to poverty eradication. We do not just cancel debt for any old dictatorship that is oppressing its poor. It has to be part of a process of reform that will benefit the needy and the poor. They are the ones who suffer the consequences of debt. The reason for cancellation is to benefit the poor.
126 I do not think that the hon. Member for Stone is fair when he says that the World bank does not understand the matter. I have had two meetings with the president of the World bank since we formed our Government. It is signing up to the DAC poverty eradication targets and we are talking about how they can be entrenched in the World bank system of management to ensure that the World bank is part of the mobilising of international political opinion to achieve our objective. I must get on: I am conscious of the time. I do not intend to take many more interventions. So many hon. Members want to speak.
As well as strengthening partnerships with and within developing countries, we want to engage more actively not only with other bilateral donors but with the international organisations through which half our development programme is channelled—about 40 per cent. is channelled through the European Union and another 15 per cent. through the World bank and other UN agencies. Indeed, for many countries, our principal contribution will be by way of the support that we provide in that way. Obviously, we cannot have a bilateral programme in every country.
I hope that the benefits of such partnerships will be felt by all developing countries, not just those in which we have a substantial programme. We need to create optimistic models of development, so that people living in countries whose Governments lack a commitment to poverty eradication can point to their neighbours and demand similar progress at home.
I want to conclude by referring to one further type of poverty which blights the whole world, and which we must also work to eliminate. It might even be the key to unlocking all the others.
It is a poverty of the imagination, which will not recognise that poverty elimination is achievable, affordable and in all our interests. It is both right and in our self-interest to create a stable and secure world in which economic, political, trading and cultural links flourish, and in which all sections of the population in all parts of the world will have a role to play. We need to develop a new spirit of optimism, and we need to keep rekindling that optimism by demonstrating measurable progress year by year as we move towards the elimination of poverty.
For our country, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I apologise, because I think that I have been calling you Madam Speaker—I want to help to create a new form of patriotism. Out of our complex history—all the bad and good of it, and the role it leaves us with on the international stage—I want us to do all we can to mobilise the political will for poverty elimination. The tide is turning in the right way. We have a chance of a reformed and more effective UN, a better World bank, a Lomé renegotiation that embraces the DAC targets of the partnership approach, and a revitalised Commonwealth. If Britain takes on the role of mobilising the political will to achieve those aims, then could not the people of Britain be proud of their country?
I believe that the objectives I have outlined will be shared by the House and by the vast majority of our constituents. They made it clear at the election that they wanted to see an end to growing inequality in this country and an increase in social justice. That lies at the heart of our national agenda, and we are also determined to see it lie at the heart of our international agenda.
127 We shall set out our plans in detail in our White Paper, which we plan to publish in the autumn. I see this debate as a key element in the consultative process and I very much look forward to hearing the contributions of right hon. and hon. Members.
§ Mr. Alastair Goodlad (Eddisbury)
I wish to thank the Secretary of State for International Development and the business managers for arranging this debate so early in the parliamentary Session. It addresses subjects of enormous interest to us all, as the attendance in the House today bears witness. The debate is an opportunity for the Opposition to reaffirm our commitment to overseas development and to those countries and their people in the Commonwealth and beyond who need and receive assistance. I shall touch on the areas of continuity and agreement with the Secretary of State and also the potentially contentious subjects for the Government's review.
The Government have already accepted many of the targets set by their predecessors. Perhaps the most important is the commitment for Britain to work with our overseas partners to halve the number of people living in absolute poverty by 2015. That is an ambitious target, but one that we believe to be achievable and we expect that the Government will live up to the determination that we expressed. It remains our aim that the poorest countries should have more trade, better government and less debt, as those are the keys which will unlock the doors to escape poverty and achieve prosperity.
We want the Government to continue projects that promote sound political and economic policies, provide improved education, health and family planning services, and encourage sustainable economic development. Throughout this Parliament, we shall seek to ensure that the measures taken by the Department of International Development serve those purposes as they should. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) highlighted the subject of population and received a positive response from the Secretary of State. As one of the founder secretaries of the all-party group on population, reproductive health and development—which has received immense support from Madam Speaker, who is no longer in the Chair—I shall take a particular interest in that subject.
A fundamental expenditure review of the Overseas Development Administration, as it then was, was carried out as recently as 1994. The Labour Government's policy of setting up reviews to review reviews seems to have struck again and we should like to know which of the four aims that were set out in 1994 is to be questioned by the Secretary of State. Does she question the promotion of sound political and economic policies, stronger health and education services, sustainable development or co-operation with our international partners? We wait to learn which of those objectives the Government question.
As one of the wealthier nations—untroubled, mercifully, by famine, war or natural disasters—we are in a position to assist countries that are less fortunate. Action to alleviate the immediate suffering caused by war in, for example, the former Yugoslavia, or drought in southern parts of Africa, is both humane and essential. It enable 128 countries to recover from their misfortunes faster than they might otherwise do. There will always be a major mission for the British aid programme.
On behalf of the Opposition, I pay tribute to the many voluntary organisations that work so hard to help developing countries. The programmes run by Oxfam, Save the Children, Actionaid and the Red Cross are but a few examples of the work done by the non-governmental organisations.
§ Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that many of our non-governmental organisations involved in aid to other countries have found that the British public tend to be more generous with appeals for disasters but less generous when it comes to appeals for development aid? That being the case, what does the right hon. Gentleman think that we should do about it?
§ Mr. Goodlad
That is a valid point. When a natural disaster is seen on television screens, it moves people to dig into their pockets and they will give money to the appropriate agencies, perhaps for the short term to help out with a particular disaster. The Government must take account of that tendency when they consider their long-term planning. Governments have done so in the past, and the present Government will probably do so in the future.
It is our experience that such agencies can operate more flexibly than Government institutions. They are especially effective in running small local projects, maintaining contact with local people and having detailed first-hand understanding of their needs. They are also especially effective where political problems make official developmental assistance difficult. That is relevant to the hon. Lady's point.
I hope that the Government review will confirm the essential place of voluntary organisations in the delivery of Britain's overseas assistance. The volunteering spirit of the British is one of our major assets, and I hope that the review will foster volunteering, rather than replacing it with a culture of apathy or dependency.
Many people today volunteer to help domestic charities. Others go overseas to work in schools, hospitals and villages on rural projects. Voluntary Service Overseas, for example, provides almost 2,000 volunteers for almost 60 countries. We wish it every success and all possible support in meeting its target of raising £600,000 by 1998 to fund more volunteers in India.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)
Should my right hon. Friend not declare an interest? Is he not a returned VSO volunteer himself?
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes)
That was a long time ago.
§ Mr. Goodlad
Both my hon. Friend and the Minister are right. I was a volunteer, and it was a long time ago. The hon. Gentleman at the back of the Government side of the Chamber—[interruption.]—yes, the one in the green jacket, the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn)—is also a returned volunteer. If I am not mistaken, my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and 129 Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) is also a VSO council member, as I also was briefly. I hope that the Secretary of State will give VSO all the support that it deserves.
What representations has the Secretary of State made to the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the strategic defence review? The connection is perhaps not obvious, but the British armed forces are professional and of worldwide renown, and they have contributed to disaster relief operations all over the world.
In Bosnia, for example, British armed forces, with the Overseas Development Administration, took part in more than 3,500 British convoys delivering 185,000 tonnes of supplies. British convoys represented a quarter of all those undertaken by the United Nations. The United Nations humanitarian operations helped to keep 2.5 million people alive through four consecutive winters.
Starting in 1992, throughout the hostilities and to date, until May, we have spent £383 million in Bosnia, initially on humanitarian assistance but later, with Multi-national Division (South West)—that is, with our soldiers—on projects to restart normal life in the sector, such as rebuilding schools, clinics and community centres and re-establishing water, gas and electricity links. That has been one of the most successful and welcome projects, and it is being adapted to establish income-generating projects that will help to start or restart small enterprises.
I hope that the Government will continue to work with the World bank on the major power projects pioneered in Croatian, Serbian and Muslim areas with Japanese and Canadian partners, and on the long-term Bosnian power project.
Elsewhere, the Royal Navy's West Indies guard ship, HMS Liverpool, is helping the islanders of the dependent territory of Montserrat. We have already spent about £25 million in Montserrat on emergencies, balance of payments assistance and development projects. I hope that the Secretary of State or the Minister will join me in congratulating our armed forces.
§ Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)
I warmly endorse my right hon. Friend's words about the forces in Bosnia. Will he also emphasise that not only the ships on standard patrol, such as the West Indies guard ship and the Armilla patrol, but Royal Navy ships on duty throughout the world are almost always the first on the spot? They represent an extraordinarily powerful arm of Britain's policy overseas.
§ Mr. Goodlad
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a matter in which we can all take great pride, and I hope that the Secretary of State and the Minister can give the House an assurance that neither the regiments in Bosnia nor the West Indies guard ship will be disbanded as part of the Treasury-driven review.
It is essential that the quality of our development assistance be maintained. Our development assistance was praised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, as "highly concessional", with awell-organised bilateral programme based on substantial national expertise.The most recent statistics show that the United Kingdom is the sixth largest aid donor by volume, with £2.041 billion spent in 1996; 0.27 per cent. of gross 130 national product was spent in 1996, putting the United Kingdom above the average of the aid-giving countries, which is 0.25 per cent.
§ Mr. MacShane
While the right hon. Gentleman is surveying the record, will he take the opportunity to apologise to the House and to the British and Malaysian people for the scandal of the Pergau dam, which did immense damage to Britain's good name and shamed and exposed certain Conservative Ministers' squalid links with private gain? Will he say sorry?
§ Mr. Goodlad
The hon. Gentleman would find few echoes for his remarks in Malaysia or indeed anywhere else. The House went into the Pergau matter at great length; the then Government have everything to be proud of and he has everything to be ashamed of.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) pointed out, the Secretary of State will know that the previous Government attached great significance to the United Nations target of a net transfer of 1 per cent. of gross national product, in public and private funds, to developing countries. At the time of the general election, the United Kingdom exceeded the target by more than a third. As a nation, we were the second largest provider of money for development in the world as a proportion of national income, although the Secretary of State made a perfectly legitimate stricture on the matter.
I am pleased that the figures released after the general election showed that the total net financial flows to developing countries rose in 1996 to more than $300 billion for the first time. That achievement was brought about largely by the private sector, which increased its share by an exceptional $80 billion to a total of $234 billion. Those huge flows of money to developing countries were generated by real people in real businesses, with real cash money, sometimes in partnership with Government and sometimes not.
The world is going through major changes. We do not always show that we are aware of that, but we should be. Economies are growing throughout the globe, bringing in their wake new challenges as well as great prosperity. That is much to be welcomed. Much has been written about the Asian miracle, in particular, but the same could be said for some of the Latin American countries whose record rates of growth, often defying international recessions, have made the rest of the world envious and their people more prosperous.
The reasons for those countries' success lie in their sound macro-economic policies, commitment to private enterprise and market economics, and emphasis on education and self-improvement. Those qualities are not the preserve of any one region or nation; they are qualities to which every Government, including Her Majesty's Government, should aspire.
§ Mr. Blunt
That is the core of the issue; it is where things could go wrong unless the review reverses the Secretary of State's complete fixation with the eradication of poverty. That is the perfectly laudable outcome of what should be the policy, but if that is the only policy, and the Government ignore issues such as political and economic development, sustainable development, health and education policies and co-operation with our international partners—the four keys of the previous Government's 131 policy for the Overseas Development Administration—and treat international development in isolation, they will fail in their objective, which is shared by hon. Members of all parties.
§ Mr. Goodlad
Some of the considerations that my hon. Friend rehearses are essential to the objective that he is right in saying that we all share—the eradication of poverty. I share his concern that the Secretary of State and her party may commit themselves to a series of policies which could endanger that objective. Political correctness could endanger the eradication of poverty.
§ Clare Short
I find this very irritating. I have just made a speech which made it absolutely clear that human development for the poorest needs to be complemented by the organisation of a state that allows sustainable economic development to take place and creates the conditions to attract inward investment. Clearly the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) cannot hear, or his brain is unable to receive information, because he simply stands up and traduces the analysis that I have just presented to the House.
These matters are too serious for cheap political games. Conservative Members should not allege that we are adopting a particular position when that is simply not the case.
§ Mr. Goodlad
I hope that the right hon. Lady will contain her irritation and recognise that my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate and other hon. Members may make remarks which are not on all fours with her views but which are not intended to be anything other than positive contributions to the debate.
§ Mrs. Fyfe
The intervention from the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) leads to a more concrete discussion. In Burma, for example, the currently illegal Government are developing industry speedily but at great cost to the population who, far from being removed from poverty, are having their lives destroyed. Will the right hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad) clarify his views on such issues as his Back-Bench colleagues are somewhat confused?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)
Order. Before the right hon. Gentleman responds, I should say that a great many Members wish to take part in the debate. Interventions have been frequent and long. Can they now be brief and to the point, please?
§ Mr. Goodlad
I have strong views on Burma which I have rehearsed before. However, it is a matter for the Government, rather than for me.
The Secretary of State and her party are suspected—wrongly, I hope—of committing themselves to a series of policies which could endanger the eradication of poverty by putting political correctness before international interests. I hope that the Secretary of State will not resent my saying that, as the purpose of this debate is to air concerns.
The Secretary of State may be about to announce her intention to end the practice of tying aid. The multilateral untying of aid—like multilateral nuclear disarmament— 132 may be a highly desirable goal, but unilateral action is not a clever policy in either area. Unusually, the unilateral change was hinted at without a review—a rarity under the present Government. The Secretary of State will be aware that a review of UK tied aid policy has been carried out. I hope that she will forgive me if I remind the House of its conclusions, which were thattheir is no strong case for making major changesin the present policy and:Current practice is consistent with the desire for effective and efficient aid; and helps to maintain popular support for the aid programme.The tying rules were revised in 1994 to provide sufficient latitude for the purchase of non-UK goods and services to minimise the risk of unnecessary excess costs. I hope that we shall not see a victory for dogma over good sense in this area.
We would like to know what rules will be put in place and how much the supervision will cost to make sure that untied aid is not misspent. We want to know also what is to stop a country placing an order in Teheran rather than Telford. What is the Government's view on Governments who offer services with large subsidies attached?
Last week, the issue was raised of the Secretary of State's understanding of the difference between free trade and fair trade. She will know that "fair trade" can sometimes, although not always, be a cover for protectionism—a policy which harms consumers and protects inefficient producers. It is our belief that aggressive, politically correct and almost imperialist social legislation is not the best way to reduce poverty and increase the standard of living in developing countries. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) finds that funny. If he thinks that he has come to this place for a programme of light entertainment, he is wrong. He should return to his constituents and tell them that both he and they have made a massive mistake.
Free trade is crucial to the economic prospects of the poorest countries, as it brings in approximately three times more money than aid alone. It boosts countries' economies and provides a spur to economic growth. The Secretary of State should not confuse support for free trade with a belief in some sort of social Darwinism. We want Britain to continue to work with the International Labour Organisation and with developing countries to tackle problems such as child labour. It is essential that a framework of law should be in place to meet the internationally agreed standards. It is also important that we have the ability and the will to enforce the laws. It is unrealistic to argue that the minimums abroad have to match those of the most industrially advanced countries, or that competition on grounds of price is somehow morally repugnant.
The ethical consumer movement can provide an excuse for people to use the market to make their own choices and to inform others of them. I hope that the Secretary of State will not allow dangerous political correctness and protectionist sentiment to form an unholy alliance to stifle trade and opportunities. I tabled a written question to the Secretary of State, to which I received a reply today. The reply came before it could appear in Hansard, so I think that the House should be informed of it. The question was:To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what is her Department's policy on a target date for global tree trade".133 The reply from the parliamentary assistant was:I am writing to inform you that the following question tabled to the Secretary of State for International Development for written answer on the 01 July has been transferred to the Department for International Development.I do not blame the right hon. Lady personally, but I hope that she will sort these matters out and take advantage of the debate to confirm that it remains the Government's aim of achieving free trade by 2020.
Sustainable development is compatible with free markets. It was the closed markets of communism which produced the industrial devastation in central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Britain's support for countries in transition should be maintained through our successful bilateral programme, the know-how fund, and various European Union programmes such as PHARE, Poland and Hungary Assistance for Economic Restructuring, and TACIS, Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States. I hope that when the Minister winds up the debate he will confirm that that is the case.
I also hope that the Secretary of State will not rule out all support for programmes which help poor areas in better-off countries, as using national measures of wealth to determine whether a state is worthy of support can lead to anomalies in aid policy.
Sustainable development is the concept that the previous Government championed and is now under review. Recent meetings in Denver and New York have confirmed that there is international support for sustainable development. Like the Secretary of State, I am disappointed that the United States has not joined EU countries in setting a target for curbing carbon dioxide emissions. I am pleased that the Prime Minister admitted at his press conference in Denver on 22 June that in this area Britain is somewhat ahead of the field—an admission that the Conservatives put Britain ahead. We will press the Government to ensure that Britain is kept ahead.
The creation of a vigorous private sector within developing countries is an essential part of achieving self-sustaining growth. It brings not only new resources, but new skills and technologies. Britain's expertise in this area is widely recognised, particularly British small business expertise—promoted by successive Conservative Governments—which has been exported to developing countries under the auspices of the small enterprise fund. Joint initiatives between non-governmental organisations and business associations have led to successful projects in places such as Kenya and Zimbabwe, and I hope that the Secretary of State will support similar projects in the future.
Much direct investment in business in the developing world is provided by the Commonwealth Development Corporation. Operating within business criteria as Britain's official development finance institution, the corporation invests in more than 50 developing countries by making long-term loans available at competitive rates. Commitments now exceed £1.5 billion, and I hope that the Government will continue to support the CDC and its operations.
The Commonwealth is an institution with a unique role in discussing international development. It is a unique forum for debate and it performs a valuable function by promoting common interests and values which are essential to the success of nations, parliamentary 134 government, the rule of law and the promotion of trade. The Commonwealth contains many of the success stories of the east and countries with more troubles in Africa. It assists in the development of poorer countries through its development institute. The exports of British business to Commonwealth countries have risen in each of the past three years. There is an exceptionally large British presence in many of those markets.
The Commonwealth has exercised its role in building democracy by organising at least 15 election observer missions in 12 countries. The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting at Harare in 1991 pledged that the Commonwealth would concentrate with renewed vigour on promoting fundamental rights, including equal rights for all citizens. Work in that area has been taken forward by the Commonwealth Secretariat through a programme of education and training, exchange of information and the creation and strengthening of the relevant national institutions.
I very much hope that the Government will carry on the work that we had in hand to reinforce the Harare declaration with action at the Edinburgh summit later this year. I hope that the Secretary of State accepts the agenda set by the previous Government that the Commonwealth should focus on international issues such as trade, investment and development when it meets.
Mention was made of debt servicing. The debt burden in the poorest countries has been tackled, thanks to British action. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) was responsible for the ground-breaking Trinidad terms, under which agreements were secured to provide for reductions in debt, first of 33 per cent., then 50 per cent., and then 63 per cent. We are pleased that the initiative to reduce the debt burdens of heavily indebted poor countries was launched successfully at the International Monetary Fund and World bank annual meetings in September last year. All major creditors confirmed that they would play their part, and the World bank's contribution was made through a new trust fund. I hope that the Secretary of State's review will reinforce the commitment to cut debt.
I am concerned about the commitment to review the criteria used by the IMF, which were questioned in a letter written by the Secretary of State dated 18 October, in which she said:The Labour party is very concerned at the criteria used by the IMF, in particular, to evaluate a country's progress through structural development. These criteria are over-focused on macro-economic indicators of a particular kind—tariff reduction, public expenditure cuts, progress with privatisation—and take little or no account of social or human indicators,In due course, I hope that she will say what the new criteria are and how she expects economic progress without the use of economic criteria. I hope that she accepts that economic growth is the best way out of poverty. We must get answers to those questions in the review.
I hope that the Secretary of State will not ignore important macro-economic criteria, such as rates of inflation. She will recall her statement in July 1996 that it seemed a "funny thing" to set up inflation as thebiggest evil of our time".She added:
I don't fully understood how inflation became such a beast that it had to be attacked at such incredible cost across the world".135 Tackling poverty requires a combination of measures, and they are reflected in the long-term approach to overseas assistance. The review should confirm the policy of the previous Government in placing great emphasis on breaking the link between poverty and political instability. The United Kingdom's development assistance programme should place a high priority on the promotion of good government. That means sound economic policies based on free enterprise and private property, political systems based on open and accountable government with free and fair elections, efficient public administration, and respect for human rights.
The Secretary of State enunciated some vague generalizations, mercifully bereft of new ideas, and recited the great achievements of the past few years—
§ Mr. Goodlad
It is original; I could not have written it before listening to the right hon. Lady.
I believe that the Secretary of State shares with all hon. Members a strong belief, in many cases passionately held, in the objectives that we seek to serve and have sought to serve. I hope that the review to which this debate is the precursor will take serious note of the views of hon. Members of this House on the means to achieve those ends.
§ 5.4 pm
§ Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)
I warmly welcome this debate. It is no exaggeration, even after the last speech, to say that it will be followed with enormous interest and hope around the world, especially in the poorest nations of Africa and elsewhere. Let us hope that we do not disappoint them.
The fact that room has been found in the crowded parliamentary timetable for a debate on international development, the day after the transfer of the sovereignty of Hong Kong and the day before the Government's first Budget, sends the strongest signal about the new emphasis and urgency given to these vital issues, in stark and refreshing contrast to the often Marie Antoinette-like indifference of the previous Administration. Special credit for that must go to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. I am delighted to have the opportunity once again to congratulate her warmly on her well-deserved appointment, and to commend her for the vigour, enthusiasm, dedication and skill that she has brought to her office. My right hon. Friend mentioned Dame Judith Hart, one of her illustrious predecessors. I believe that she has the capacity to exceed even Dame Judith's great achievements.
A series of recent international gatherings—the G8 summit in Denver, the Earth summit at the United Nations in New York, and the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in the Zimbabwean capital Harare, to name but three—has served forcefully to remind us that, unless the problems of the world's poorest people are taken into account in all our deliberations, we cannot talk about peace and security in the world. Unless answers are found on the pressing issues of sustainable development, the future of our planet may be at stake. 136 As President Robert Mugabe told the United Nations, the international community seems to remember the existence of Africa only when disaster strikes the continent. It was therefore welcome news when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced at the Denver summit that we intend to increase our bilateral aid commitments to African countries for basic education, health care and the provision of safe drinking water by 50 per cent. compared with the figures for the past three years. Investment in both human development and infrastructure is essential if Africa is to be able to eradicate poverty and realise its full potential.
There are some hopeful signs. Despite what much of the media would generally have us believe, the news from Africa is by no means all bad. Many countries have undertaken serious reforms of their economies and systems of government. The absolute decline in incomes has been halted, and the 1996 average rate of growth for the continent was 5 per cent. Within that figure can be found some particularly impressive success stories.
Ethiopia, almost universally written off as a basket case a decade ago, has a growth rate of 12 per cent. Thanks to its encouragement of grass-roots democracy and the land reforms that have unleashed the creativity and enthusiasm of the peasantry, Ethiopia achieved self-sufficiency in food last year—a truly remarkable feat.
Uganda, another byword for tragedy not so long ago, had a growth rate of nearly 10 per cent. and has become a regional magnet for investment. This year, we acknowledge the fact that 25 years ago many of my constituents were expelled from Uganda by its hated regime. Many of them have re-formed links with their country of origin and will go back this year. Many regard with great pleasure the fact that Uganda has made such important strides.
South Africa has some of the highest rates of economic growth outside the east African region.
Despite such magnificent efforts, the difficulties and challenges remain extremely formidable. Sub-Saharan Africa has a population of 600 million, which will double by 2025. Forty per cent. of people live on less than $1 a day and the infant mortality rate is one in 10. Alongside conflicts, natural disasters and severe environmental difficulties, the AIDS pandemic continues to claim the lives of hundreds of thousands and to threaten millions more.
Against that background, Africa's share of world trade, output and investment—already disproportionately low—has declined steadily in the past two decades. All this has contributed to unsustainable levels of debt, a collapse of infrastructure, the revival of traditional conflicts and the eruption of new ones and, in certain instances, even the disintegration and disappearance of civil society and the states themselves.
It is scarcely surprising that even those Governments most committed to reform and self-improvement, such as Ghana, Uganda, Ethiopia and Mozambique, often find their way blocked by challenges that they find insurmountable. Therefore, the international community has a clear duty to make greater efforts to help Africa as it tries to solve its own problems.
Perhaps the greatest factor impeding Africa's efforts to shake off the legacy of poverty and underdevelopment is its chronic debt problem. I therefore welcome and applaud the Government's initiative to write off the bilateral aid 137 debts of 17 of the poorest most indebted African countries. Equally welcome is the World bank and the International Monetary Fund's implementation of the heavily indebted poor countries—HIPC—initiative, which is likely to benefit up to 14 African countries, with Uganda as the first beneficiary.
We all know, however, that such measures on their own still fall far short of what is required. Debt servicing makes a mockery of our present aid programme. For every pound that Britain gives in aid, we receive back 47p in debt services. Not only is that morally reprehensible, but it clearly and directly undermines the effectiveness of our efforts in poverty reduction and development aid and is, therefore, economic nonsense.
The HIPC initiative only scratches at the surface of the problem. The level at which debts are considered sustainable has been set too high, and many countries are not scheduled to receive any relief until well into the next century. For many of their people, the stark fact is that that will come too late. Added to that, political problems are leading to further delays. Uganda is first in the queue, yet its relief package has already fallen a year behind schedule.
Debt relief, as I have already implied, is literally a matter of life and death. The United Nations Children's Fund has estimated that just £49 million of debt relief for Uganda could save the lives of 398,000 children under the age of five and 13,000 women who would have died in childbirth, in addition to improving primary education for 2 million more children.
Similarly, in Mozambique, debt servicing accounts for one third of public expenditure, while education gets just 7.9 per cent. and health a pitiful 3.3 per cent. The country's Ministry of Planning and Finance predicts that, even after HIPC relief comes on stream, debt service payments due in the next millennium will be three times their average in the early 1990s.
Mozambique is now a multi-party democracy. Its commitment to economic reform is such that a recent Financial Times supplement remarked that it would surely leave even Lady Thatcher breathless—quite an achievement. Among the reasons why Mozambique remains one of the poorest countries on earth, with one of the lowest life expectancies, are the sacrifices that it made to support the struggle against racist minority rule in the former Rhodesia, and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Its solidarity with the peoples of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Tanzania, Botswana and Swaziland was such that Mozambique became the first country to be admitted to the Commonwealth that was never colonised by Britain. Can it be right for a country that has already suffered so much to endure such a burden? There can be no moral, political or economic justification for that.
Likewise, what useful purpose or moral argument can there be for continuing to demand that the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo pay the price for the extraordinary and bizarre behaviour of Mobutu and his henchmen? The Government have expressed a welcome wish to work constructively with the new Administration of Laurent Kabila in Kinshasa. There could be no better way to start than by giving bilateral debt relief and supporting such initiatives at the multilateral level. There is no doubt that such an approach will be welcomed throughout the continent.
138 South Africa's deputy Foreign Minister, Aziz Pahad, last week called for a co-ordinated international effort to help rebuild the Congo's shattered economy, which would have to start by working out ways to deal with the crippling debt burden of £9 billion inherited from Mobutu. He stressed that that must be an African-led initiative, and I believe that one of the most useful things that we could do is to encourage the increasing efforts of the African countries and peoples to resolve their problems themselves.
Such an approach has shown its worth in efforts to resolve conflicts in the Great Lakes region, to restore democracy and halt the slide to war in Burundi, and to end conflicts and restore democracy in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The continued progress of the Southern Africa Development Community and the more recent revival of institutionalised economic co-operation between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are the sort of positive examples that we need to support and help to build on.
It is entirely right that we should focus our efforts in debt relief and development aid on those countries that have made the greatest efforts to reform their economies and democratise their forms of government, on countries that fight corruption and do not contribute to instability among their neighbours and in the wider region. However, it is time to reject the tired and discredited dogma that economic liberalisation on its own represents some sort of panacea for the poorest countries of the world. The new Government elected by the British people in their millions on 1 May bring to the task of international development fresh thinking that asserts that liberalisation on its own is not enough. The state still has a key role to play in ensuring provision of basic health and education, in terms of physical infrastructure and in establishing a fair and transparent framework of legislation and regulation.
It is interesting to note that, as with the Government's policies at home, our thinking on international development is paralleled by a welcome change of heart on the part of key players, some of whom have by no means always shared our views and perspectives. For example, last week the World bank's chief economist, Joseph Stiglitz, declared:Markets and governments are complementary. The state is essential for putting in place the appropriate institutional foundations for markets.According to the World bank's new report "The State in a Changing World", most African countries will need to raise real public wages, increase spending on social services andundertake vast investment in personnel management, retraining and accountability.The bank's president, James Wolfensohn, noted:Without an effective state, sustainable development, both economic and social, is impossible.According to Wolfensohn, the state must be a "partner, catalyst and facilitator" of economic development, setting rules to allow markets to function, playing by the rules itself, acting predictably and preventing corruption.
The World bank report identifies what it considers as five crucial functions that Governments, as opposed to markets or the private sector, must provide—a legal foundation, an effective macro-economic policy environment, investment in basic social services and infrastructure, a comprehensive safety net for vulnerable members of society and basic environmental protection. 139 For those who remember the dogmas, prescriptions and impositions of the 1980s in particular, those are welcome and refreshing words. They provide the basis for a great new consensus which can really work to eliminate extreme poverty and so make the world a safer and more sustainable home for future generations.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State brings to her office an awareness of the tragic circumstances that led to some of her forebears having to leave Ireland and subsequently make their home in Birmingham. In his recent message at the famine commemoration event in the Irish Republic, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recalled and regretted how the Government of the day in London 150 years ago failed a section of their people, with tragic consequences, by allowing political and economic dogma to take precedence over human want and need.
Today, we live in an even more interdependent world; we must not leave to future generations the burden of having to say that we in this House failed the most needy people in the world for any reason of prejudice, indifference, dogmatism or wilful neglect. That, above all, is what the Government's White Paper must address; I firmly hope that it will.
§ Sir Raymond Whitney (Wycombe)
The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) was right to point to the welcome improvements in a number of African states. He was also right to mention the importance of relieving debt interest. However, he might have recognised the important start made in that respect by the previous Conservative Government. I differ with him over his suggestion that the present Government came to office on 1 May with a new set of policies. As far as the country can tell, most of the Government's policies are a pale imitation of Conservative policies. Labour offered only two policies: a minimum wage, which will cost jobs, and a windfall tax, which will do great harm. There is little sign of any other new policies.
I have had the privilege over 10 years of my working life to be involved with development in one form or another on the Indian sub-continent and in east Africa. Throughout that time, I have been struck by the danger of introducing woolly thinking into the subject. That was one of a number of points on which I agreed with the Secretary of State. She said that what were needed were not just soft hearts but hard heads, and I agree. However, as she continued her speech, hard-headedness seemed to disappear.
As we enter yet another review with this White Paper, the new Department should ask the following question: after more than 40 years of massive development effort and after countless billions of dollars or pounds have been spent, why do these enormous problems and challenges remain? The problems seem greater now than they did in previous decades. That is not necessarily because they are greater in real terms; it is because we are more aware of them. The communications revolution means that the problems appear on our television sets virtually every night and there is, rightly, deep awareness of them. The public will to meet that challenge is entirely justified and, I am sure, shared by parties throughout the House and the country.
140 I also agree with the Secretary of State that it is possible to eradicate poverty; it is technically achievable in terms of increasing the production of agriculture, food and other goods so that other countries attain the sort of standard of living that we in this country are fortunate to enjoy. It is possible to eradicate poverty if we introduce the right policies, but that is where we have to make a judgment. The White Paper must be clear and as we move forward on, I hope, a bipartisan basis, we should learn the lessons of the past 40 years, which have not been an unmitigated success. However, in the past few years, some progress has been made in Africa.
No amount of aid or sacrifice by the developed countries will work unless conditions are right in the developing and recipient countries. There are two major challenges or obstacles to be overcome. The first challenge is what we might call civil strife. If there is civil war or tribal fighting of the sort that we have seen in central Africa over the past two or three years, nothing can be achieved, whatever the world community does. All we are doing is putting a finger in the dyke; no progress can be made towards eliminating poverty.
I am not suggesting that I have the answer, but the international community must work out what it can do if one country or a group of countries seems intent on tearing itself to bits. To what limits can the rest of the international community go? What action can we take through the United Nations, the European Union or any other international group? How far can we go in peace-keeping terms? We all know the terrible challenges involved. How many of us are ready to tell our constituents that their sons must enter the armed forces and defend the status quo in Rwanda, the new Congo or wherever? We also face the challenge of what happens when we leave. Will we be sucked into what is known in the United States as the Vietnam situation? Those challenges present an examination test to which the international community has not yet found the answers. I do not have the answers either. Those problems constitute a crucial element in the challenge that the international community must tackle if it is to solve world poverty.
I believe that we have learnt lessons and can make progress in our efforts to overcome the second challenge or danger. I shall sum up that danger in a word that may give offence to some Labour Members: it is socialism—state interference. We saw that happening for at least a quarter of a century—
§ Sir Raymond Whitney
I shall tell the hon. Gentleman. I can give the example of Tanzania. I am referring to the 25 years between 1960 and 1985—the hon. Gentleman was not in the House at that time, but I was, towards the end of that period. Dame Judith Haft, to whom much reference has been made in the debate and to whom I pay tribute, was totally committed to the cause. If ever there was an example of a soft heart taking precedence over a hard head, it was in the form of that admirable woman, Dame Judith Hart.
I am giving the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) his answer and I hope that he is listening. Tanzania is a perfect example. We kept hearing about Uncle Julius—President Nyerere—who was 141 President for about 25 years, during which time there was what he called Ujamaa socialism, which was a total disaster. With a few, freak statistical exceptions, no country in the world has had more aid than Tanzania, which has nothing to show for it in terms of its people making progress towards escaping poverty.
There has been a change in the past five years. We have got away from the one-party state, from centralisation and from the socialism of Tanzania into a multi-party state led by President Mkapa. He follows the precepts and recipes of the International Monetary Fund for which he worked.
§ Mr. Soames
Julius Nyerere followed mad policies which did terrible harm in Africa and awful corruption flowed from his Government. Does my hon. Friend agree that the debate turned largely because of the efforts of my colleagues at the Overseas Development Administration to link aid to good government? Does he agree that—far from there having been no overseas aid until the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) became Secretary of State for International Development—the whole debate and the thrust of our aid programme had already dramatically changed for the better and led to profound changes in those countries?
§ Sir Raymond Whitney
I am most happy to agree with my hon. Friend—we must not let Labour Members get away with pretending that international development began on 1 May. We were, quite rightly, the sixth largest donor in the world and, as most of those familiar with aid programmes on the ground recognise, the British aid programme is one of the best administered of the lot. I would add, en passant—if I am allowed to use a little French in this Chamber—that one of the other lessons I learned from personal experience is the extreme value of well-administered non-governmental aid. I emphasise the term "well-administered", because there are some badly administered programmes. I reckon that £1 spent by a good agency is worth £5 spent by a multinational operation and I have seen many examples to justify that belief.
Let me return to the point in my speech where the hon. Member for Rotherham gave me the chance to offer him the salutary example, which I hope he will consider carefully, of Tanzania and how the dangers of a socialist approach destroyed any hope of using aid productively and effectively. That point was again underlined by the world development report issued by the World bank, to which the Secretary of State referred. If the seed of development is to flourish, the soil has to be fertile, which means that the approach of the recipient Government has to be sensible, non-dogmatic and pragmatic. It is the lack of those qualities that will reduce the economic success that the Labour Government have inherited from their predecessors.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Before the hon. Gentleman gets totally carried away with his eulogy to free market economics, will he pause for a second and recognise that the free market economies of Latin America that he admires so much have created the most incredible gap between rich and poor—which is precisely what they are designed to do—and that the gap is getting greater and the rate of environmental destruction in those 142 economies is getting far worse? Does he not recognise that in equality there is also an opportunity for sustainability?
§ Sir Raymond Whitney
I invite the hon. Gentleman to consider the standards of living in even the poorest countries of Latin America and compare them with the impact of socialist policies in Africa. I would be the first to agree that there is a challenge in some Latin American countries, but he should recognise that the trickle-down effect actually exists—although I realise that that is anathema to his basic political philosophy. Would that the economic position in Africa were remotely comparable to that in Latin America, which is the second fastest-growing economic area in the world. If I were asked who would be better off in 10 years' time, someone who lives in Zaire or Rwanda or someone who lives in a favela outside Rio, I know where I would put my money.
I gather that today, for the second time of asking, the world has been blessed with a speech by the Secretary of State. I regret that, although we could all agree with many of her remarks, the speech verged on the platitudinous. We were waiting for the big event—to be told what was new. We know about tackling and trying to eliminate poverty, but we wanted to know what the Government were going to do about it. We were told that they would have a review—No. 27 or 28 in the calendar of this brave new Labour Government.
The Government have set an aid target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product, so the obvious question is whether there is a target date by which we are to achieve it. We have been told that the answer is no—the review will be completed at the end of next year and then a date will be found. Whether we are currently spending 0.28 per cent. or 0.27 per cent. of GNP on aid and whether we want to shift the focus of that expenditure marginally one way or another is not important; if the Government truly accept a target of 0.7 per cent. of GNP, what is wrong with announcing a timetable now? Might not that reticence be connected with the fact that the Budget is delivered tomorrow and therefore nothing can be said today? I may be wrong, but I doubt whether anything will be said tomorrow about expenditure increasing in the aid budget. That was a significant gap in a very long speech by the Secretary of State, who told us nothing new. Nevertheless, I look forward to the right hon. Lady's continued occupancy of the post of Secretary of State. There is no doubt where her heart lies—the question is, how hard is her head?
§ Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)
I was not sure whether the hon. Member for Wycombe (Sir R. Whitney) was attacking socialism or attacking Africa. If socialism, I tell him that there are many countries that have failed as a result of some policies that were called socialism—countries such as the Soviet Union, which receives aid, and other eastern European countries—but I did not hear him mention any of them. I am led to the conclusion that he is really concerned, not about socialism, but about Africa, and I wonder what the reason is for that.
I am extremely pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate. I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends for allowing the debate to happen. I understand that there has not been a debate on foreign aid for an extremely long 143 time. The fact that an issue that has not been debated in the Chamber for many decades is now at the top of the agenda shows the Government's commitment to the subject.
The debate gives hon. Members and the Government the opportunity to discuss and to amend the practice of the old Overseas Development Administration, whose representatives were concerned with huge projects and with acting like old colonialists in relation to them. I am concerned by the way in which the ODA has relegated the Foreign Office to the status of a poor cousin, receiving handouts to run small projects with which the ODA cannot be bothered. That attitude of the ODA causes great resentment among embassy and high commission staff in a number of countries.
British overseas aid in the past has been difficult for countries in the south to access. Strings have been attached—for example, consultants, arms sales and so on—and I was pleased when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said today that tied aid will be discontinued. Also, in some instances, the ODA has given capital funding but not running costs, thereby causing projects to fall into disrepair and abandonment.
In the past, aid has been used—[Interruption] Mr. Deputy Speaker, I find it very difficult to speak over the noise from my hon. Friends—I hope that they will either be quiet or listen. In the past, aid has been used to try to alter the political regime in some countries. For example, in Malawi, the regime was threatened with the withdrawal of aid unless the Government changed. Aid given by Britain often ties the recipient countries to buying British goods and services and, in some cases, countries end up owing Britain more than they received in aid.
The role of the British Council was undermined by the Conservative Government through competitive tendering, cuts and a general lack of belief in the organisation. Will my hon. Friend the Minister assure us that the British Council, which is respected by every country that I have ever visited, will be fully funded, and that its proper status will be restored?
Sonic people in this country believe that aid should not be given to other countries. Constituents of mine, especially young people, say to me, "We have problems in our own country. Our infrastructure is bad, and there is high unemployment, but we are giving aid to other countries." I think that such arguments can be laid to rest by the concept of mutual benefit. Aid that is given to a country in the southern hemisphere can benefit both donor and recipient. When a project is agreed on in such a country, working-class youths and adults in our inner cities—as well as working-class youths and adults in the recipient country—should be able to benefit front training on that project. In the past, aid has largely benefited only big firms such as Wimpey, Tarmac and Costain and their middle-class professional staff.
When I was in the South African Free State recently, someone asked me whether I would lobby the British Government on his behalf to help support a jewellery factory that he wanted to set up in the Welkom area, where the gold mines are. I said that I would be happy to assist, but would that person assist me as well? Many youths in Tottenham could benefit from learning the jewellery trade. I said, "I will do a deal. I will fight for 144 you to secure funds from the British Government, if you agree to take some of our young people so that they can be trained in jewellery cutting and polishing and we can establish a jewellery industry in Tottenham." That is what I mean by mutual benefit. The person agreed to my suggestion, and in due course I approached the Ministers on his behalf.
Projects could be much smaller, and geared towards women and young girls. I am not 100 per cent. critical of the last Government and the Overseas Development Administration. Last year, having been approached by a group of people who wanted to set up information technology training for fledgling black businesses in South Africa, I took them to see Lady Chalker. She agreed to establish a pilot project with the group, and the ODA provided about £200,000 for an initial two-year period. When I went to see the project in action last month, I noted that that £200,000 had funded an enormous operation. The group had persuaded Anglo American to provide them with a brand-new but redundant training centre with 28 bedrooms and a swimming pool, the like of which I had never seen in Britain—and they had acquired it for one rand.
The group has moved on since then. Dell Computers has given it a number of computers; Microsoft has provided the software. When I visited the project, the group had already begun training people from the townships of Brondreld, Thabong and Reebigstadt, and the initial period of training was coming to an end. Four of the 15 people involved already had jobs, and the South African business sector was so impressed with the project that companies such as Anglo American and ICL decided to send their staff to be trained at the centre. The project has been a tremendous success, and excellent value for money. I look forward to discussing with Ministers the possibility of our supporting such a venture.
I was particularly pleased by the fact that computer experts from my constituency went to set up the training in Welkom. If anyone wants further details about the project, I shall be more than happy to supply them.
Let me make a plea for aid projects to be multiracial at all staff levels. Currently, most members of staff are white, which gives those in recipient countries the impression that Britain is a totally white country. Non-governmental organisations and firms that receive contracts as a result of aid should be required to prove that they are equal opportunity employers, and that their personnel who leave this country are multi racial.
I hope that the Ministers will consider helping countries in the south to gain access to aid from Britain and the European Union. It is notoriously difficult for such countries to get hold of EU funds. Rules and regulations are so stringent that gaining access to the funds requires a batch of accountants, financial workers and lawyers whom those countries simply do not have. The situation is ludicrous in many southern countries: millions of pounds have been allocated to them, but lie in the vaults of Britain and Europe while people in those countries starve.
There are two ways in which the problem could be tackled. First, specific aid packages could be geared towards the recruitment and retention of professionals in countries in the south. I believe that many young graduates of African origin would be prepared to go to African and Caribbean countries to work on such 145 programmes, and I know that the same applies to people of Asian and other origins. It should be noted that nearly all Voluntary Service Overseas personnel are white. I support VSO organisations, but every one that I have seen on my travels has been white. The Government should encourage active recruitment of black and Asian VSO personnel. Secondly, the requirements adhered to so assiduously by officials in the EU and Britain need to be reviewed in consultation with the Governments of countries in the south, so that mutually acceptable procedures can be implemented.
That brings me to my next point. A brain drain is taking place in Africa and parts of the Caribbean. People are being drawn to Europe and America, areas which are acting as huge vacuum cleaners, sucking the best brains out of the southern countries and thereby preventing those countries from benefiting from their qualifications. People who have been given scholarships by their Governments come to this country, gain qualifications and then, invariably, gain further qualifications. They then stay in this country rather than returning home.
§ Mr. Grant
No, not people like me. I did not come here on any scholarship. I am pleased to say.
The Government want such people to stay here because they require their skills, and can get them cheaply. In fact, the Government often do not pay anything, because the southern Governments must pay for the scholarships. The situation is so bad in some countries, such as Guyana, that Governments cannot even collect their own tax revenues because of the lack of qualified staff. The late Dr. Cheddi Jagan, the ex-President of Guyana, said consistently that southern countries should be compensated—not aided—for the brain drain.
It is obvious that the best way to eliminate starvation and poverty in southern countries is to get rid of the debt burdens that they bear. The Paris Club, which is the international forum for determining debt relief, operates on the basis of consensus, which ensures that relief proceeds at the pace of the slowest. The Government should take unilateral action to wipe out the debt of the poorest countries. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that that has already started.
The Government are committed to the heavily indebted poor countries initiative, the HIPC initiative, of the International Monetary Fund and the World bank. While the initiative is welcome, its associated structural adjustment programmes are stringent and long winded and make it difficult for many of the poorest countries to benefit. To date, no country has obtained debt relief from the HIPC initiative. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) said, Uganda has undergone 11 years of IMF programmes and is still unable to get relief this year. Next year, Uganda will be required to pay back more than $200 million in interest and the debt relief will amount to only $20 million. That is after 11 years of the structural adjustment programmes. Even the HIPC initiative will be of little help to Uganda next year. I should like to see the Government taking the lead in scrapping the debt owed to Britain as a matter of urgency.
Fair trade is an important element in helping the poorest countries to reduce starvation and poverty. I hope that the Government will look closely at how trade links with 146 Britain and the European Union could be assisted. I am particularly concerned that the EU is currently consulting widely on its green paper on Lomé 5 on which negotiations are due to begin in 1998. The agreement will affect the various agricultural protocols such as those on bananas and sugar. In view of the World Trade Organisation's requirements, I hope that the Minister will find time to debate the Lomé 5 agreement, which is of such importance to African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.
§ Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)
I had hoped to welcome the Secretary of State to her new job. I hope that that will be recorded. I welcome the White Paper and the opportunity to debate it. I understand from my colleagues that there has not been a White Paper on international development for 20 years. That is quite extraordinary.
The political will to build on past successes in combating world poverty has been eroded over the past two decades, and that was illustrated in the speech by the right hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad). My overwhelming impression was that his speech was a eulogy on the armed forces that are needed to sort out civil wars. In most cases, such wars are the result of failure to provide aid and relieve poverty. The second part of his speech was devoted to trade. It was significant that, in his list of developing countries' needs, he mentioned first, trade, secondly, better government and thirdly, the relief of poverty. My hon. Friends would call that a Freudian slip, but it illustrates the Conservative mentality.
The aid budget is always an easy target, especially when Governments are required to cut costs or to reduce or maintain tax levels. I urge the Government not to stick to their ridiculous boxing in of tax and spending, which we have heard about. No doubt, all will be revealed tomorrow. I hope that we get some good news. We Liberal Democrats are constantly accused of taking the moral high ground. The Government have a huge majority and I urge them to seize the moral option, not only because it is right but because we can afford to do that.
The gap between the richest and poorest countries is wider than ever. Civil wars are increasing, thousands of people are being displaced by conflict and environmental degradation and old and new diseases are threatening public health. The prime purpose of aid is to reduce poverty, and we often fail to acknowledge that aid has brought Britain short-term benefits in goods, services and research. The longer-term approach to aid should be to regard it as investment.
As a doctor, I would opt for promoting preventive health care because prevention makes economic sense. It means less suffering by the patient, and that is also true of nations. Extending aid today will mean less emergency aid tomorrow. Today's recipients of aid are tomorrow's markets. We can all win.
In my short time as Liberal Democrat spokesman for international development, I have come to regard the portfolio, as I know does the Minister, as the most important one. There is no end to the responsibility. It encompasses the environment and the economy and ranges from health to defence issues and all are relevant to international development. I urge the Government in their White Paper to take in aspects of all their policies in other Departments to see how they affect developing countries.
147 International development to tackle world poverty requires a multi-faceted approach, and it is my job to give the House a brief view of Liberal Democrat policy. We must set a timetable to achieve the United Nations aid target of 0.7 per cent. of GNP in 10 years. I feel ashamed of this country's record. For example, Norway provides 1.05 per cent. of its GNP in aid. While that country's percentage has risen, ours fell under the Conservative Government. Dare I suggest that a timetable for debt relief in the poorest countries and a programme for cancelling debt which has been called for by Jubilee 2000 are surely better ways to celebrate the millennium than building a dome at Greenwich?
Liberal Democrats endorse the Foreign Secretary's fine statement that human rights will be central to the Government's foreign policy. However, we want to see practical measures such as suspending United Kingdom aid programmes in countries where human rights are not being respected such as Indonesia and East Timor. The White Paper must also assess the nature of international trade and how global markets often operate against the interests of developing countries.
We must reform the international trading system. For instance, multinational commercial-style agriculture and industry expanding at its present rate will cause 36 per cent. of the world's arable land to be lost by 2025. Is that sustainable development? Millions of children under the age of 12 work in sweatshops in ever-expanding cities to satisfy the world demand for cheap consumer goods. Is that sustainable? How can we let it continue? My major concern, however, is the targeting of aid, especially to women and children who are illiterate, sick and dying because their countries are so busy paying off debt and encouraging unsustainable development that there is no money left to give their people basic education and health care.
Some hon. Members may already know that I have spent most of the past 15 years working as a woman's health doctor in Southall, Middlesex, where the majority of residents are from the immigrant Asian community. They have access to the best health care and education and they make the most of it, but my patients used to tell me how lucky they were and that the majority of their countrywomen left behind in developing countries faced a different future—a nightmare.
About 600,000 women a year die while giving birth. Many of them are teenagers. I say to hon. Members: imagine if they were their children or grandchildren. The suffering of those women is no less because they are in the third world. Of those 600,000 women, 140,000 bleed to death. [Interruption.] I do not think that the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) can stand the statistics. About 75,000 women die from the results of self-inflicted abortions. They do not want unlimited pregnancies; they want to decide for themselves how many children they have. In many cases, they have no access to birth control, so illegal, self-inflicted abortion is the only answer.
About 75,000 women die from convulsions due to eclampsia, which is a complication of pregnancy, and 100,000 from blood poisoning. About 40,000 go into obstructed labour, which goes on for days and days and there are enough women in the Chamber, thank goodness, 148 to know what obstructed labour might feel like. The baby is already dead and the women go on until they eventually die themselves. Help is not available. The ones who die might be regarded as the lucky ones. The women who live face a life of terrible ill health and of rejection, often by their families and communities because they simply cannot support someone who is unproductive within the village or family.
Those women and their children must be helped. They must have access at least to basic health and maternity care. I accept that it is a tremendous task, but I cannot accept us turning a blind eye to such suffering. As other hon. Members have mentioned, help must be linked with basic education. That must be a high priority. Studies have shown that the education of girls, in particular, is one of the best investments available to developing countries.
I welcome the fact that the Government have announced that we are going to rejoin the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, but I am sad that the money has to come out of existing budgets and that no new money is to be found yet. Education can increase incomes, free women from subjection and lead to better child health and nutrition. Ultimately, it can lead to a more prosperous society.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I welcome what the hon. Lady says about UNESCO. The Secretary of State for International Development was in Paris this morning hoisting the Union Jack over the UNESCO building, while the Union Jack was being taken down on the other side of the world. I also reassure the hon. Lady that the moneys to pay our subscription to UNESCO will not affect our bilateral programmes to any country, but will come out of the contingency fund.
§ Dr. Tonge
I am delighted to hear that because, in a reply several weeks ago, the Minister told me that the money would come out of the reserve and did not explain that new money was being found. I am not sure even now that that is new money and we look forward to new money for overseas aid.
If poorer countries are using their meagre gross domestic product to pay off debt, to erode their land and to destroy their environment, they gain nothing and we gain nothing in the long term. Every day that developed nations delay the relief of unpayable debt, opportunities for education, health care and sustainable development are lost. Let us in this country, who have been given every opportunity to change things for the better, lead the way through the new Government. The Government are leading the way on land mines and they should be proud of that. Let us also lead the way on overseas aid.
§ 6.4 pm
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I welcome the debate and the opportunity for a discussion before the publication of a major Government paper on international development issues. I particularly welcome the fact that the Government have changed the Department's name from Overseas Development Administration to the Department of International Development. It is a far more appropriate title. It recognises a sense of sustainability and interdependency in the world, rather than one of a paternalistic disbursement of funds to the needy poor.
I also welcome what goes with that change: that the Government's foreign policy statement on human rights is a central part of British foreign policy. It is about time 149 that that was a central factor in our foreign policy because human rights abuses throughout the world are getting worse. Many of those abuses are a product of poverty, of the gap between the rich and the poor, of the sale of arms and of the arms race. Those are all factors that must be borne in mind.
The end of the century provides us with an opportunity at least for some degree of hope. When we were having such debates 10 or 15 years ago, the world was gripped by what could only be called the Thatcher-Reagan axis of a never-ending arms race, an ever-growing gap between rich and poor and the brutal imposition of free market economics on the poorest economies and people throughout the world. That brutality cost the lives of millions of people, as did the United States arms race and rearmament programmes. However, things have moved on a bit since then and I hope that we now recognise that this planet cannot survive unless we find an environmentally sustainable form of development and eradicate the gap between the richest and poorest nations, and between the richest and poorest people in both poor and rich nations. This country has much to learn and much to contribute to the debate. Until last year, Britain had the fastest growing gap between the rich and poor of any industrial nation and we exported that belief to many poor nations.
On Friday, a BBC "Newsnight" report on the New York environment summit suggested that there was some difference between environmental groups, aid lobbies and world anti-poverty organisations. There is no difference between the two because the world's problems—including global warming, pollution and desertification—impact on each other. If people chop down forests on the coast of west Africa, it affects the rainfall further in the interior. If people chop down forests anywhere, it increases run-off and it reduces water retention and the atmosphere's ability to gain more oxygen. We suffer as a result.
Throughout the world, it is the poorest people who suffer the impact of pollution. The smog clouds in third-world capital cities are over the poorest neighbourhoods. It is the rich who can afford to move to the hills in the suburbs and who think that they can get away with it. The poor suffer from low life expectancy and appalling housing and health because of the environment in which they live. We have to look to develop a world in which we protect the biodiversity that exists, in which we encourage an environmentally sustainable policy by all countries and in which agricultural and industrial systems do not continually warm the planet and create problems. We have to look to sustainable agriculture as well, which brings me back to the point about the economic models that are imposed on people.
African agriculture is very efficient and productive. It is not efficient and productive if development destroys what was an indigenous form of agriculture and instead imposes a plantation system of agriculture based on machinery, pesticides and exports, which reduces the life support systems for the local populations.
Some years ago I was in Honduras, an extremely poor country in central America, talking to a family who lived outside the cash economy. They lived, essentially, in a hut beside the road and grew a bit of corn. If they did well, they sold a bit and could buy a few cooking utensils. If they did not do well, they starved. Behind them was a huge, barbed wire fence protecting the fattest beef cattle 150 in the world which were using the land—land that that family should have—to feed the burger bars of the United States.
The international development of a plantation or ranching system of agriculture while allowing a minority of the population to live in the most abject poverty possible was presented as a model of development. We can and must do much better than that. The gobbledegook of market economics that says that all private sector investment in the third world, and all investment in such an agricultural system, is automatically good is totally wrong. It is totally fallacious. If we believe in sustainability, we must encourage an agricultural system and biodiversity that sustain the environment and the local population. It seems wrong to encourage the development of such an agricultural system when the poorest people in those countries continue to starve as a result.
The Secretary of State's objectives for 2015 of halving world poverty; universal primary education in all countries; a two-thirds reduction in infant mortality; and global sustainability are achievable. They are, in some ways, quite modest. They suggest that there will still be quite a lot of people living in abject poverty, that there will be an awful lot of children and young people dying prematurely, and, indeed, that there will be many adults who will be lucky to live past 45. We must be able to achieve my right hon. Friend's objectives, but to do so will require a considerable effort by an awful lot of politicians around the world to make the case and to be prepared to promote a trade and aid system.
My concern is that so much of the economic development that is happening in the world at the moment is presented as rapid economic growth, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Sir R. Whitney), who often speaks with great verve about the development of Latin American economies. He will find that there is indeed very fast growth in many Latin American economies, but behind that growth lies two factors. There is the most unbelievable degradation of the environment by multinational corporations that could not give a fig for the pollution that they pour into the rivers, for the fish that they destroy, the forests that they chop down or the life styles that they destroy.
There is also mile after mile of shanty towns outside the major cities, with children working in unbelievably appalling conditions. As soon as anyone pokes their head above the parapet to try to form a trade union to protect workers' conditions or tries to form a social rights campaign to obtain housing, health or education, they come up—like a hammer against an anvil—against the economic model that that country is following. They are told, "Pay your debt, cut your public expenditure. Promote exports. Don't worry about sustainability." Those people, because they have stood up against those regimes, then become political refugees who seek a haven in western Europe and north America. We can and must do better than that. There is a danger that the economic models that are being pushed on the poorest countries of the world are in effect almost a recolonisation of the countries that fought for their independence some years ago.
Of course we should achieve the aid target. It is a disgrace that we ever went below it. We can and must do much better than that. We must also look at the issues of trade and fairness that go with it. Some countries have traditionally depended on a single product for their main export earnings. My hon. Friend the Member for 151 Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) mentioned bananas from the Windward Islands; others mentioned cocoa from west Africa and other places. But however much those countries are able to increase their productivity, they end up getting less money for their products because they do not control the prices that they are paid in the first place. They produce more to sell more to get less to pay a debt, the interest rate of which is fixed elsewhere. My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) spoke about the debt crisis.
One can see how countries got deeply into debt. They did not control the petroleum prices. They did not control the interest rates that they paid on their loans. They did not and cannot control the prices that they are paid for tea, coffee or anything else. Those prices are fixed miles away, often only a couple of miles from this Chamber. We must ensure that the World Trade Organisation looks to sustainable and fairer trade and ensure that decent prices are paid for the primary products of the poorest countries in the world.
We have to ensure that the International Labour Organisation's very minimal and basic conditions are applied throughout the world. The biggest abusers of workers' rights around the world are often the small contractors that work for multinational corporations that are based elsewhere. The children who assemble training shoes in third-world countries work for the brand names that are on sale in the high street. However much those brand names might try to wash their hands of it, they are guilty of what is going on.
My final point—this debate is clearly part of a continuum—is that we have to take these issues extremely seriously. We want to live in a world that is harmonious, but it will not be harmonious if the gap between the rich and poor widens. It will not be harmonious if civil wars are promoted as a result of that gap. It will not be harmonious if we base much of our economic activity on the sale of arms to elites to control the poorest people in the poorest parts of the world. We have to look to democracy in the way in which multinational corporations operate. It is regrettable that, a year after the Rio summit on the environment, the United Nations closed down its office for multinational corporations. We have to reform the way in which the World bank operates and the way in which the International Monetary Fund operates.
In its 50th anniversary, perhaps we should look to greater democracy and transparency in the United Nations. We want this planet to be a place that all of us can inhabit, where all of us can achieve the best for ourselves in our lives, but we cannot do that if we allow some of our fellow citizens of the globe to die in childbirth and allow some people to reach 30 or 40 while a minority in the richest countries can live to 80 or 90 and have a reasonable existence. We must ensure that we share the wealth of the world and the technology that brought about that wealth.
§ Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)
I start by welcoming in her absence—I should he grateful if the Minister would pass on my warmest welcome— the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) in her capacity as Secretary of State for International Development.
152 I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) that the change in name is fortuitous and welcome. It more carefully, more sensibly and more coherently portrays that which a country such as ours seeks to do in this regard overseas.
I also pay warm tribute to my right hon. Friend Baroness Chalker. All of us who know Lynda Chalker know what an incredibly dedicated and remarkable job she did at the Overseas Development Administration. She was held—literally around the world—with immense affection, regard and esteem. On many occasions, I have been told that she has a profound understanding of the needs of many developing countries and a determination to do what she can to help them.
I very much hope that Labour Members will not forget the very admirable work that Lynda Chalker did. I hope also that they will not forget her predecessor—the 28th and last Governor of Hong Kong, who was himself an immensely distinguished Minister for Overseas Development.
I should also like to do something that the Secretary of State for International Development, to her shame, did not do today—pay a warm tribute to all those who work for the ODA. Many ODA staff and subcontractors work in the most hostile, difficult and inhospitable conditions, and they have many remarkable achievements to their credit. In the plethora of political correctness that we hear everywhere about overseas aid, we underestimate the extraordinary respect that Britain commands in the developing world.
Clearly Labour Members believe that overseas and international aid have been invented since 1 May 1997. I believe that it is incumbent on the House not to forget that, before 1 May, we operated one of the most successful aid programmes in the world.
§ Mr. MacShane
Will the hon. Gentleman remind the House which Government and Prime Minister first created a Ministry of Overseas Development, which Government degraded it so that it was simply an adjunct of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and which Government returned it to the Cabinet?
§ Mr. Soames
I can quite easily answer the last question, but I have no idea about the first two questions.
As I said, we had a very good aid programme. Although many hon. Members might have wished that we had had more to spend on overseas development, as a proportion of national income 'at 1.38 per cent. of gross domestic product' Britain is nevertheless the second largest provider of development money. I believe also that the action that was taken to make that money go further by promoting work with non-governmental organisations set a very valuable precedent, on which I am quite sure that the Secretary of State for International Development will build. Opposition Members will be watching with interest as the new plans unfold. I am particularly interested to discover how much money the Chancellor will give to overseas development.
At heart, the previous Government believed that the quality of aid was what really mattered. I am quite sure that that belief will hold true with the current Government, regardless of whether they spend more money. The important factor is that the quality of aid given should be extremely good.
153 In the course of the very happy time that I spent at the Ministry of Defence, I had the opportunity to see many ODA projects around the world. I should like, however, to dwell on the projects that I saw in Bosnia, because an important question is where the defence review will leave our overseas aid programme and many of the assets deployed in its support.
The scale of the work that was undertaken in Bosnia was truly remarkable. Hon. Members do not know enough about those programmes, although—if he attempts to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker—the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) may have something to say about the extraordinary success of the British aid programme in Bosnia and the desire of almost every other country involved there to learn how our aid projects were undertaken.
Many of those projects were undertaken by the British Army—particularly the Royal Engineers—and supported by the Royal Air Force and by the Royal Navy. The projects had the benefit of the skills and experience of the ODA, matched with the tremendous technical skill of people such as the Royal Engineers. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad) said, the forces restored electricity and gas supplies and built health centres. I visited a health centre in a place where, for generations, people had had no form of medical assistance.
The services also repaired and rebuilt schools and gave people considerable comfort and a stake in the community—which, after all, is what promoting peace is all about. Their effort was one of the most excellent uses of our aid programme that I have ever seen and enabled us make a real contribution to restoring normality to a shattered and broken country, thereby enabling people to begin to pick up the pieces.
My experience of the ODA in Bosnia showed the services' exceptional ability to help in delivering aid. There are endless examples of that ability, as the Under-Secretary of State for International Development knows very well. He knows also that we should build on that ability. I suggest that the ODA should provide and that the services should make provision for a permanent ODA representative, to assist in contingency planning at the permanent joint headquarters, at Northwood.
I had an entire series of meetings with ODA officials and Ministers to try to ensure that we had perfect co-ordination. However, much of the planning for operations short of total war should involve the ODA, because—as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Sir R. Whitney) said—much of the necessary work involves clearing up after military operations and delivering aid to communities gravely affected by those operations. It is important that the ODA's expertise should be factored in early in planning operations.
I ask the Minister to consider the question whether there should be—if not a permanent ODA representative at the PJHQ—a highly placed official who could be allocated to the PJHQ at any time to assist in on-going contingency planning.
§ Mr. Soames
I am very glad to endorse my hon. Friend's comments. In events of the past few days, HMS Liverpool, which is currently the West Indies guard ship, has played a notable role. Later in my speech I propose to say a word or two about the West Indies guard ship, which has long played a notable role in similar operations. It is an extremely important asset.
The Minister should know also—although the services will not thank me for saying it, because they want their people to do things other than to work in the aid programme—that, within all three services, there is an increasing reservoir of extraordinary expertise and skill in aid delivery. I urge the Minister and the Minister for the Armed Forces—who has at his command, particularly within his private office, a considerable reservoir of expertise—to make the most of those resources to ensure effective and efficient aid delivery to those who most need it.
The know-how fund, which was established by the previous Government, has been an incredible success and one of the most successful new developments in international aid of the past few years. The fund has supported the transition to a market economy in central and eastern Europe by providing British skills and encouraging British investment, and a Conservative Government spent £230 million on it. In the re-ordering that the Secretary of State for International Development said that she will undertake, I very much hope that there will be no diminution of that very important programme in central and eastern Europe. It is not only contributing to stability in countries making a very difficult and tricky transition but greatly enhancing Britain's reputation.
The Secretary of State for International Development has returned to the Chamber. I warmly congratulate her on her new position, to which she is bringing much enthusiasm and drive. I understand how excited she is at getting the job, because I felt exactly the same about my job in government. Enthusiasm can carry before it a great deal of obstruction.
I ask the right hon. Lady to consider establishing a know-how fund for the Palestinians. Her Department has a good record already in helping them. I think that about £80 million has been given to the Palestinians to help them in a tricky period. The right hon. Lady, who knows about the middle east, will be aware that the peace process is beginning to run into the sand. Too many people feel that no longer do they have any stake in the community and have nothing that is worth hanging on to for the future.
The way in which the know-how fund has operated is so special and unique to the United Kingdom that it would command the support of many of the Gulf states, which I am sure would share the funding of it if we made available our expertise. I ask the right hon. Lady carefully to consider whether there should be a reordering of the fund. We might look for other sources of money to support such a programme. Given our expertise in these matters, the other moneys would be most welcome.
I shall say a few words about the defence review. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) mentioned the West Indies guard ship. 155 The Secretary of State's right hon. and hon. Friends in the Ministry of Defence are undertaking a fundamental defence review, which will be put many such assets under great pressure. The right hon. Lady needs to fight with all the considerable force of character and will at her disposal to ensure that we retain the guard ship along with the Armilla patrol, both of which for tiny cost carry weight and substance and the ability to project British power, which is an important object in itself, along with the ability to assist in disasters.
The right hon. Lady will know that for many months there have been evacuation and emergency plans for Montserrat. The West Indies guard ship was the key to that operation, as was all the liaison that takes place throughout the Caribbean between the countries that have ships in the area, to ensure that we cover one another and can help. The guard ship and that liaison are a vital arm to our foreign and aid policies. I urge the right hon. Lady to understand that both these assets, and many others, are of great service to the state and are under great pressure.
In my view, the Secretary of State for Defence does not understand what the Treasury will do to the defence budget. The right hon. Lady will understand that the Treasury is one of the arms of government that is entirely resistant to reason and logic. In my humble experience of the Treasury, it is my considered belief that it works for a foreign power—probably for the Russians. I urge the right hon. Lady to get her retaliation in early and to build a substantial case for those assets that help her Department to deliver the overseas aid programme in such a distinguished way.
§ Mr. Grant
I agree 100 per cent. with what the hon. Gentleman has said about the West Indies guard ship. It does a tremendous job in terms of evacuation and in patrolling for drugs and everything else. Has the hon. Gentleman, as I did, landed on the guard ship in the middle of the Atlantic by helicopter? It was one of the most exciting things that I have done in my life.
§ Mr. Soames
Over the past few years I have landed on many ships, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is, indeed, an outstanding and exciting thing to do. It is—I do not know exactly what the word is—a nut-tightening experience of the first order, especially if one is landed-in by wire. However, I was so dedicated to my job in the Ministry of Defence that I felt for me to go to the West Indies would probably be a trip too far. I passed on that particular one.
I conclude by taking up a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury about Voluntary Service Overseas. I think that the Secretary of State is in a unique position, with her tremendous enthusiasm for her job, to encourage and enthuse more young people to take part in the aid programme. I have no doubt that they could, if they were permitted to do so, make a hugely greater and more important contribution than they can now because of the meanness or parsimony of our financial masters.
I urge the right hon. Lady to ascertain whether she can secure more money for the VSO and for other like organisations and generally to encourage the young to see what they can do to help developing countries, where they will be made most welcome.
156 My right hon. Friend Lady Chalker instituted a fundamental expenditure review within her Department in 1994. It is difficult to see what rabbits the right hon. Lady will be able to produce from her hat. All of us will live in hope but, I must say, without much optimism.
§ Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe)
I am grateful for the chance to make my maiden speech on the subject that is before the House. Many right hon. and hon. Members will remember my predecessor, Sir James Lester, as a prominent supporter of overseas aid, and I am pleased and proud to be continuing this Broxtowe tradition. It is sometimes said to be an unpopular cause, but that never seemed to worry Sir James, just as he remains an enthusiastic supporter of the European Union long after it has ceased to be fashionable in the political circles in which he moves.
I remember a debate during the general election campaign when a questioner asked whether he, Sir James, was not worried by the social chapter. He replied that he was not worried at all by the social chapter as it stood. It would have taken only a tiny hint of scepticism to win the questioner's vote, and it would not have made any difference to the prospects for Europe or the national election if he had perjured his soul by that tiny fraction. But he did not, and it was one of those moments that I am sure that most right hon. and hon. Members have had, at one time or another, when they had a sneaking suspicion that their opponent might, at a personal level, be a better man or woman than they. Sir James is an upright man, and all of us across the constituency and the political spectrum wish him a very happy retirement.
Broxtowe is a fascinating constituency to represent, not least because it does not exist as a place on the map. It was originally an administrative and recruiting area, and the Men of Broxtowe were a feared armed force in former times. I shall say something later about the women of Broxtowe.
The constituency curves round the western outskirts of Nottingham, including an astonishing variety of environments. Beeston, the home of Boots and the regional centre for Siemens and GPT, is a thriving town, attracting increasing interest from other pharmaceutical companies.
Further west from Nottingham, we find the leafy suburbs of Bramcote Hills, as well as the famous Attenborough nature reserve. Next comes Stapleford, which is distinct from Nottingham and which faces all the challenges and problems of proximity to a major city. I am sure that many hon. Members will be aware of those challenges and problems from knowledge of their own constituencies.
Turning north, there is the idyllic village of Strelley, so fiercely protected by planning regulations that even the trees must apply for permission to spread their leaves. There are then the townlets of Awsworth, Cossall and Trowell, which are directly threatened by opencast mining projects of the type which were debated in the House a few weeks ago. I am sure that we shall be debating those issues again soon. Finally, in the far north, there is the town of Kimberley and the sprawling estates of Greasley, where many of D. H. Lawrence's works were set.
Like all constituencies, Broxtowe strives to develop new export industries, and one of the most successful has been in Labour candidates. My hon. Friend the Member 157 for Erewash (Liz Blackman), who has already impressed the House with her maiden speech, was until the election the deputy leader of Broxtowe council. Ms Jocelyn Pettitt, the candidate who reduced the former Chancellor's majority to a handful, is chair of Broxtowe Labour party. Rumour has it that she was the only Labour candidate to receive a "good luck" telegram from a Conservative association—in Yorkshire, I believe.
During the past 18 months, I spent most of my weekends talking to a total of more than 10,000 people in Broxtowe—not campaigning, but just listening to their concerns. During the election campaign, we offered all voters special interest leaflets on 14 subjects. We were a little surprised that the overseas development leaflet was one of those most in demand. That interest in overseas development in my constituency and many others can be traced back to the everyday concerns of most people.
How do people expect from us in Parliament to affect their lives? The sobering truth is that most people are not all that interested in any of us or in politics. Most people just want to get on with their life. Events in Westminster normally seem remote to them, just as events in Britain probably seem remote to many of the people whose future we are discussing.
The problem is that a sudden decision in the political or business world can lash out at a person's life like a blind monster, oblivious to its power. Those effects can be seen in Britain when a decision to close a factory, build a stretch of road or change the rules for the care of the elderly, which may seem minor and necessary in London, destroys the security that families have built painfully over many years. A change in the terms of international trade can destroy a country's prospects for many years.
People do not expect the Government to intervene massively to transform their lives overnight. If we announced that a giant new steel works—or even a giant dome—were to be built in Broxtowe next week, people would be astonished, and not necessarily all that thrilled. They look to us to provide underlying security—the confidence that they will always have at least a minimum income, a roof over their heads, a tolerable environment, decent health care and decent education for their children.
People expect that not because they are particularly lucky, not because they were born to the right parents, not because they know the right people, and not even because they made the right decisions early in life, but simply as part of the basic package of being British.
People want protection against arbitrary disaster. It is sometimes said that a strong welfare state removes the incentive to take risks. People who are walking a tightrope without a safety net take the fewest risks, and cling most desperately to what they have. Only someone who believes that they will always be sure of the basic essentials will find the courage to change to a new skill or go to a new town to find work. We try to encourage flexibility in Britain and abroad, but we must remember that flexibility is not just a change in the rules, but an attitude of mind rooted in underlying security.
If those facts are true in Britain, how much more are they true in developing countries, where many people never encounter even a fleeting moment of security, and life is a desperate battle from a hazardous birth to an early death. Most people in Britain do not spend much time thinking about such things, but when they hear about conditions in many parts of the third world, a spark of 158 sympathy leaps the geographical and cultural chasm, and they want their Government to do more to make an impact.
Most of us remember the Live Aid events some years ago, which, for a few days, gripped the imagination of the whole of Britain. That memory is lodged in people's consciousness. They do not think about it every day, but they want us to take action.
For the past 18 years, we have spent less and less of our resources on fighting the most extreme forms of human misery on the planet. For the sake of our self-respect, we should reverse that decline and concentrate our aid on countries as disparate as India, Cuba and South Africa, where there is a clear focus on taking people out of poverty.
In recent weeks, the new Government have met a rare wave of euphoria. People who for many years have felt cynical about politics and about the Government have gained a sense of common hope—a sense that democracy can achieve a change for the better. With the policies that we are discussing today, we have a chance to spread a little of that hope to people in places where hope has been no more than a distant rumour. If we neglect that chance, we will forget the ideals that once put us on the road to becoming Members of Parliament.
My contribution comes down to one simple message: in overseas aid, as in other areas, we must not let down the people of Broxtowe, of Britain and overseas who have hesitantly come to believe that the British Government can again be a force for good. For the sake of our country and for the sake of our democracy, we must not let them down.
§ Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)
It is my pleasant and traditional task to congratulate the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) on his excellent maiden speech. It could not have come in a more appropriate debate. His predecessor, Sir Jim Lester, was an assiduous attender of debates on overseas aid, and supported many initiatives on the subject in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, on which he sat for many years. He was a strong supporter of overseas development and the aid budget throughout the times when the hon. Gentleman said that the budget was diminishing. I assure him and his constituents that the budget would have diminished a great deal more if it had not been for Sir Jim Lester's advocacy of it.
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for the courteous way in which he referred to our former colleague and for the thought-provoking and thoughtful nature of his maiden speech. I am sure that the whole House looks forward to hearing him as often as the huge Labour majority will permit.
I want first to look for the points of consensus in the debate, before addressing one or two areas in which we might diverge from the thoughts put before us by the new Secretary of State. I welcome the review. I know that we Conservatives make fun of the fact that the Government are conducting so many reviews—as far as we can see, we have government by review at the moment—but the review of the aid budget has not come too soon. We must think through what we are trying to achieve and how to achieve it.
159 The objectives that the Secretary of State set before the House are not in dispute. The Conservatives are as keen as the Secretary of State for abject poverty to be relieved. She was right to point out that we have made huge progress and that our objective should be to make further progress more quickly. The elimination of abject poverty is a wonderful objective.
The poverty that we talk about in overseas development debates is not the same as domestic poverty. The Labour party tells us that domestic poverty grew under the influence of 18 years of Conservative government. It is talking about comparative poverty, for which the right hon. Lady's objectives cannot be achieved. We cannot eliminate comparative poverty. In the sense that she is looking for elimination of abject poverty, I am sure that we can agree on how that has to be done.
Elimination of abject poverty has to be done through basic health care—and population control along with it, as My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) said. I urge on the Secretary of State the necessity of population control alongside the issues of women's health and the health of the child—on which huge progress has also been made, some of it under the influence of the United Nations, particularly UNICEF's immunisation programme in Lebanon during the middle of a great war.
I take issue with the Secretary of State on her response to my question. I believe that some international organisations—many of them UN organisations—can do things which we as a single sovereign nation cannot. One of them—apart from the immunisation programme in Lebanon—is the elimination of smallpox throughout the world, which has been achieved.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on Britain rejoining UNESCO. Her hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for—I never get this quite right—Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) and I fought for us to rejoin UNESCO. Did I get his constituency right?
§ Mr. Wells
Good—that is an achievement.
One of the primary reasons for fighting to rejoin UNESCO was the basic primary education objective, to which I am delighted the Secretary of State wants our initial contribution to be devoted.
I am a little cynical about the Secretary of State being able to get the money. She announced the other day that she has managed to get money from the contingency reserve. That is wonderful, and gives my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) and me hope that, by fighting the Treasury, she will be able to get more money for the aid budget. I shall make some proposals later about emergency aid and how we fund it.
The issue should cover health, population control, housing, shelter, reliable sources of food, water—and together with that, clean water and sanitation—and at least primary, education. That leads to what we must also do: provide employment for those who survive their youth, in order to enable them to help themselves.
160 The objective of aid must be to enable people in third-world countries to help themselves. This is where I am worried about some of the arguments that have been put before the House. I worry that, in their desire to help, Government Members want, in their rather patronising way, to give the fish but not the fishing rod. I very much hope that I am wrong, because the fishing rod, the capacity to help oneself, leads to a more rapid improvement in health and welfare and to the relief of poverty for which we are all looking than any other method.
We should be giving not cash but investment. Investment in productive, wealth creating businesses and agriculture will provide jobs and improve the ability to raise the necessary money through taxation to pay for health care, housing and education, which I suggest cannot be supplied on any sustainable basis through any conceivable aid programme that we may put forward.
Barriers to trade or protection, which I see that some of the briefing for this debate still urges should be undertaken by non-governmental organisations—briefing from Oxfam, to be precise—will not enrich countries. Trade itself will enrich countries. I was very pleased to hear Government Members saying that we must enable third-world countries to sell to this country—and Europe particularly.
We must take that up fiercely with Europe; Europe must open its market to imports from the third world to enable the third world to earn its own living instead of being dependent on aid. Aid should enable, not create dependency. Some countries are literally dependent on the regular receipt of aid. That is no way in which finally to eliminate poverty. We must enable people to help themselves.
Aid can work only where there is good, sound government—preferably of a democratic kind. Sadly, we can point to countries that have a form of government that is not democratic but provides the stability and capacity for people to have the confidence to invest in their own future. We must help that. Governments can destroy the developmental process.
Although the British aid budget is of outstanding quality, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex said, it is also very thinly spread. I suggest to the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary that we must take some hard decisions. We must concentrate our aid and assistance where it can work best, and not necessarily where it is most needed.
Some countries greatly need aid. We heard of the plight of the people in Iraq in the Tigris and Euphrates valleys, but people in Sudan, for example, the Central African Republic and Burma are also desperately poor. We cannot help those people because of the nature of their Governments, who are certainly not democratic. They are tyrannical, and fight wars with each other which result in absolute poverty of the most degrading kind. We would love to help, but, given those conditions, we cannot, and we need to recognise that.
We must say that, sadly, until such Governments are in a position to offer a proper economic framework in which to work in accordance with the world development report—a framework that includes a basic legal framework, effective macro-economic environmental policies, investment in basic social services and infrastructure, a comprehensive safety net for vulnerable 161 members of society, basic environmental protection, and I would add the absence of corruption—we cannot help them.
I am glad to say that, at last, corruption is beginning to be spoken of in international financial circles by people such as the president of the World bank. The Under-Secretary and I were urging the World hank about eight years ago to make certain that money did not go to corrupt Governments, because it would only be disbursed, get into the wrong hands and go back into Swiss bank accounts.
§ Mr. Soames
How does my hon. Friend envisage the Secretary of State overcoming the very difficult conundrum of distributing aid in the way that he rightly suggests but at the same time retaining enough from what will be a much more limited aid budget than she aspires to or would like for the many post-conflict resolutions such as in Bosnia, where aid was applied not in the conventional sense as it is in Africa but to provide stability and some form of normality, and to enable peace-keeping operations? How does he see that balance being struck, in an inevitably very limited programme?
§ Mr. Wells
I shall come to the issue of emergency aid and the kind of aid to which my hon. Friend referred in his excellent and very constructive speech. As he hinted, we must find alternative sources for the know-how fund and the kind of emergency aid that we have been offering, which is of huge value and which we can hardly avoid giving. People are in the most appalling conditions—usually war, or tension between warring parties.
Those areas include Bosnia, Iraq, Burma, the central African republics and Sudan, which is in an appalling condition. We need to provide emergency aid for those people, but the Secretary of State must look for alternative sources of finance. The Gulf states should be invited to contribute, and should work with us in Palestine and all over the world. We should head a group of nations that will fund international operations with efficiency and a humanitarian approach, like that exhibited by our armed services and the ODA in Bosnia.
The additional finance cannot come from the taxpayers' pockets in this country. We cannot raise enough, and we should not sacrifice the important investment that we make in eliminating poverty. I regret the way in which emergency aid has taken a bigger percentage of the bilateral budget in the past few years, because that is a distortion of objectives of the aid budget. On the other hand, I do not want to stop providing emergency aid, so we have to find extra money for it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid"Sussex has diverted me from my point, which was that we cannot provide aid alone. We must do it with other Governments, and in partnership with the private sector. In fact, the private sector must provide the majority of the money and investment needed. I am proud that we contribute 1.38 per cent. of gross national product when both private and public funds are taken into account.
I ask the Secretary of State to bear in mind another danger. We must not enter another colonial era and impose on sovereign states our ideas of what they should do. That would be to repeat the mistakes of colonialism.
For example, some years ago the then Prime Minister of Jamaica, Michael Manley, said that he would introduce compulsory primary education during his five years in 162 office. That never happened. The introduction of compulsory primary education would be the most developmentally important improvement for Jamaica, and I would support a proposal that we stopped all other aid to Jamaica, provided the Jamaicans agreed to spend money on primary education.
However, I would not spend the money on school buildings or books—I would spend it on training teachers to teach. In that way, we could make a huge contribution, but it could be done only with the support of the Jamaican Government and people. We could not impose that on them.
I shall run through a few topics quickly, because I know that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak. If the Secretary of State could find a way to finance aid and trade provision outside the aid budget, nobody would support her more than I would. Indeed, Neil Martin, the first Overseas Aid Minister in the 1979 Government, told the House that the Government's objective was to eliminate the aid and trade provision.
That is what we should try to do, but we cannot send our companies into competition with other companies pursuing contracts overseas if the other companies have subsidies provided by the European Community, their national Governments or any other organisation. If we did, our companies, and therefore our constituents, would be at a disadvantage. Those overseas contracts are very important, and the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) gave the example of the provision of railway lines. Many other contracts are linked to aid and trade provision.
If the Secretary of State cannot find other ways to finance aid and trade provision on her budget, I hope that it can be done on somebody else's. The aid budget should be left available for our bilateral programme, but the Secretary of State will have to fight tooth and nail to achieve that, and she will have to convince the international bodies that frown on subsidising exports to permit her to subsidise British exports. If she can solve that problem, God bless her.
I am extremely cynical about programme aid. Programme aid is the way in which the World bank, especially, has financed third-world Governments. It has given them blocks of money for a programme that has never been carried out. That money, which should have been invested because it has to be repaid, then adds to the country's debt burden. The money carries a notional interest rate—even if it is International Development Association money—and, if it is World bank money, it sometimes carries a considerable interest rate. Programme aid should be phased out.
I also wish the Secretary of State to examine food aid, and to eliminate that as well. I am not convinced that food aid helps the ordinary agriculturalist to produce food to sustain his family's development or to provide agricultural products for export. Food aid actually undermines that process.
Emergency technical assistance is, as I have said, a large element of the bilateral programme, but it has been wasted in many countries. We send people with technical expertise into Ministries, but they are frustrated in their attempts. For example, we sent a person to Zambia, 35 years ago, to teach the Zambians how to run their customs and excise unit. That person and his successor spent their careers in that job, never training any 163 Zambians or improving their customs and excise function. We could use the money in the technical assistance budget much more effectively.
We must pursue transparency in international financial institutions. We must receive a proper report of the votes by our representative in those institutions, and he should appear before a Select Committee to explain what they are doing with our money. The institutions must also adopt a policy of taking responsibility if they invest in projects and objectives that are not achieved. They should write off, against their reserves, the money that they have donated in such cases, like any other bank that makes a failed investment. The reserves are available to do that, and that would assist in the reduction of debt.
We should also save money on aid administration. We do not need all the development groups that exist expensively overseas. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad) said, the Commonwealth Development Corporation and its relationship to the aid budget needs careful examination. The CDC could be used to provide more money for aid objectives by enabling it to take a shareholding and to borrow on the markets to expand its programme. It could thus make a major contribution to private investment in third-world countries.
On the subject of debt, I wish to commend to the House the report by the all-party group on overseas development, "Africa's Multilateral Debt:—A Modest Proposal". In that document we proposed that the debt of those countries should be written off. Much of that debt is owed to the international financial institutions, which refused to write it off. The countries concerned have been using our bilateral aid budget to pay interest and capital back to those institutions. We should have zero further tolerance of that process.
We must pursue the objective of getting the international financial institutions to write off debt in appropriate cases. One appropriate case has already been mentioned—Uganda, which has completed an economic programme in association with the International Monetary Fund, and has behaved impeccably for the past 10 years. Uganda took part in the HIPC—heavily indebted poor countries—initiative, which I understand has failed because Germany, Japan and the United States now oppose the proposals that were agreed at the most recent World bank conference.
I urge a return to that subject, to make certain that the debt is considered as a whole. There is debt to international financial institutions, bilateral debt, which we should continue to write off where appropriate, and private debts—usually, in the case of Africa, trade debts. Those all need to be considered as part of the whole debt. Then manageable debt repayment must be agreed with the countries concerned. If necessary, that must be financed by gold sales through the IMF or in other ways.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, we must concentrate aid where it can work and can benefit the poor. We must make hard-headed decisions that, in certain countries, we cannot help. India is one example, because India can help itself. It is a huge country, and a nuclear power with huge armed forces, yet it takes a lion's share of our bilateral aid programme.
164 The problems of India are not lack of money but socio-religious problems, which we cannot affect. Therefore, we should say to India, "You must stand on your own. We will assist with private investment, and encourage that in every possible way, but we shall not make you a recipient of our bilateral aid budget. You must find ways to change your community, so that the poorest people in your country can benefit from the increasing riches of India as a whole."
I know that that will affect the aid statistics, because, on a "per head" basis, India is one of the poorest countries. But India can help itself if it wishes to, and it must make the changes itself. Similar remarks could be made about Bangladesh.
In summary, we must make certain that good government is there—economic government, government with the right objectives. We must encourage private sector investment in partnership with the aid programme. Some of the underlying infrastructure benefits, such as clean water, roads, and education and health systems, can be provided by the aid element. Then private investment can go in behind that, and be successful.
Social spending on health, housing and education can grow out of the success of the economies in which we invest, and can then be sustained by the taxes that, as a result of the increased prosperity that our aid budget and our private investment are producing, can be raised in the countries concerned. That is how we can increase employment and enable the people of third-world countries to work their way out of poverty, in partnership with the efforts of this country in both the private and the public sector.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. Obviously this is a serious and multi-faceted subject, but Back-Bench speeches are now running at more than 15 minutes each, on average. More hon. Members will be content at the end of the debate if shorter speeches are made, so I appeal to the House to that end.
§ Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
The House has heard me say many times that the European Parliament had many advantages, one of them being that Members due to speak in a debate knew exactly when they would be called and time was strictly limited. One was lucky to be given more than three minutes in a debate and if anyone overran the allotted times the extra period was taken off the time allowed to other members of the same political group. That is an excellent idea, and I hope that it will be one of the many things that we consider when we talk about reform of this House.
First, I warmly congratulate the Secretary of State for International Development, who has left the Chamber for a moment, and the Under-Secretary of State. I am pleased to see both of them in their posts because I know that they will vigorously defend the aims of development and aid, as the Secretary of State has already spelt out. She especially emphasised the reduction of poverty and the focusing of much of the aid on women. That will be a good investment, because whenever aid is focused on women in the third world, we more than multiply the money that is allocated in the first place.
165 I echo what has been said about Jim Lester, who was dedicated to the subject of international development and spoke in many such debates with great feeling and commitment. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer), his parliamentary successor, will focus on the same issues if his speech today is anything to go by. I congratulate my hon. Friend on an interesting maiden speech.
I am glad to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State back in the Chamber. I was just saying how glad I was that she holds that post, because if anyone can promote such policies, especially for the poor and for women, she can. I am sure that she will sweep aside all who try to obstruct her way, and she can be sure that we are all behind her in that respect.
Seven years ago, a Malaysian journalist came to see me. I did not know him; he telephoned me out of the blue to say that he had information that I would find of great interest. Being a former journalist myself, and knowing that if journalists ask to see somebody they usually have a story, especially if they come from as far afield as Malaysia, I arranged to see him.
What that man told me was both fascinating and worrying. He told me about the Pergau dam, and how it was not helping the poor in Malaysia but promoting policies disadvantageous to them, because thousands of people were moved out of the way to make way for it. On the basis of what he told me, I submitted a report to the National Audit Office. The rest is known.
After the NAO investigation it was found that the Government were misusing overseas aid money. The High Court found that the then Foreign Secretary had unlawfully disbursed millions of pounds of public money, in contravention of the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980. I notice that the shadow Secretary of State for International Development thought it convenient to forget about that this afternoon.
The previous Government were not bothered by that humiliating indictment of their aid policies, and they continued to defend the indefensible diversion of taxpayers' money away from the world's poor, whom it is intended to benefit. They did no more than pay lip service to human rights.
I shall focus briefly on Indonesia, because many of us are concerned about Britain's bilateral aid relationship with that country, which has been marked by substantial increases in aid, out of all proportion to Indonesia's relative poverty and the human rights record of the Suharto regime.
In 1995 I published a report on British aid to Indonesia which demonstrated that the previous Government continued to flout their statutory obligations by funding aid projects that were developmentally unsound and positively harmful to the people of Indonesia and, in some cases, to the people of East Timor.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State rightly said that she wishes to focus British aid on poverty reduction, and the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) said that it was important to concentrate our aid and assistance where they are needed. We all agree with that. Two questions arise, however—whether Indonesia's relative poverty justifies its current share of the aid programme, and whether aid provided for specific projects is effective in alleviating poverty and promoting human development.
166 The World bank categorises Indonesia as a middle-income country, with a 1995 gross national product of $980 per capita—it is projected to be more than $1,000 by the end of the century—but British aid has more than doubled, from £25 million in 1990–91 to £57 million in 1995-96, making it the eighth largest recipient of British aid, receiving more than any other Commonwealth country. Its record of economic growth and its increasing national wealth hide the reality of unequal wealth distribution and many millions of people still living below the poverty line
The British aid programme has done little to alleviate the suffering of Indonesia's poor. According to the United Nations Development Programme, only 6.6 per cent. of British aid to Indonesia, and only 2.9 per cent. of aid from all Indonesia's donors, is spent on human development priority areas.
The projects that I examined in my report, "British Aid to Indonesia—The Continuing Scandal", which went to the National Audit Office and has been considered by the Public Accounts Committee and the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, are evidence of the low priority given to poverty reduction and human development.
One project in particular shows that British aid was misdirected. If we give aid to Indonesia in the future, I hope that it will be properly directed. Britain funded the paramilitary Indonesian national police. In so doing, it breached the guidelines of the Overseas Development Administration on aid to non-military security organisations and to institutions, such as the INP, which fail to respect human rights and to practise good government.
Financial assistance provided by Britain was completely ineffective, as the INP"s appalling human rights record has failed to improve in recent years. In any event, human rights were not even addressed by British trainers and advisers. According to the ODA, the developmental benefits of the project were seen
as the encouragement of the Indonesian police towards community policing in terms of improved human rights".The NAO noted that the ODAspecifically excluded references to human rights in the proposed training programmeand went on to say:there is only limited evidence to suggest that the project has been effective in meeting the Administration's objectives of encouraging the Indonesian Police towards community policing".Incredibly, the project's only achievements appear to have beenimproved reception desk and driving/vehicle licence issuing procedures".That was the result of our training of the Indonesian police. In other words, the project was a complete and utter failure.
I also detailed to the NAO evidence of the killing of civilians by the Indonesian police and of other atrocities over a number of years. I provided a sworn statement by an East Timorese refugee detailing the severe human rights abuses committed under the command responsibility of an Indonesian police officer trained in Britain under the ODA's training programme.
The ODA's suggestion of the time, thatthere has been a slow but detectable improvement in Indonesia's general human rights record in recent yearswas completely disingenuous and not supported by the facts. As everybody knows, nothing has changed in that country. Recently, the police were prominent in the 167 violent suppression of the pro-democracy protests which erupted in Indonesia last year and in the run-up to the elections this year.
§ Mr. MacShane
My hon. Friend may be aware, because she signed early-day motion 176. "Indonesia and Mukhtar Pakpahan", that Mr. Pakpahan is a most distinguished trade union leader in prison on trumped-up charges and suffering from serious illnesses. The motion was signed by more than 150 hon. Members, but by no Conservative Members so far as I know, and calls for his early release. I hope that my hon. Friend will join me in calling for the Indonesian authorities, if they read this debate, to allow that brave and distinguished trade union leader to go abroad for medical treatment.
§ Ann Clwyd
I completely agree. I signed the motion and I entirely support my hon. Friend's actions in attempting to get Mr. Pakpahan released for urgent medical treatment. Too many people are languishing in Indonesian prisons who have done nothing more than stand up for their own human rights—rights that every person in Britain would take for granted.
The failure of the police project is not surprising, as the ODA was given little time to influence its design or scope because of the need to approve it quickly. That urgent need arose because of the imminence of arms sales contracts. The NAO notes:In September 1985, the British Ambassador in Jakarta considered that failure to provide an offer of aid on the television and radio studios proposals could have an effect on potential defence and commercial sales then being negotiatedand says that the British embassy in Jakarta
recommended that a good offer of aid needed to be made quickly as they considered that the disappointment to the Government of Indonesia would be correspondingly great and could affect a number of other interesting pieces of business likely to come to the UK. These included both potential defence and commercial sales.I endorse what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said about aid and trade provision. I cannot understand why the Conservatives continue to claim that there was no link between aid and arms sales, when it was clear from the NAO report that one of the main reasons for pushing through the project at speed and without any proper appraisal or consideration of its development merits was to gain lucrative arms sales for Britain.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is conducting an important review, and she knows that I am not trying to push her. I am simply hoping that in considering aid for Indonesia or any other country with a bad human rights record she will uphold the statements made by many of our Front-Bench colleagues about the Government's emphasis on human rights and an ethical approach to foreign policy.
Human rights should be considered at both country and project level, for all country programmes and all projects. They should be considered at design, appraisal and monitoring stages. If they are not, projects will not promote real development or provide value for money.
I hope that no aid will go to East Timor. The previous Government gave aid for transmigration of Indonesians to East Timor. That programme of forced land resettlement and land deprivation has come to an end only recently. 168 It diluted the population of East. Timor so as to influence the result if ever the people there get what the United Nations want them to get—the opportunity for a referendum so that they can make up their own minds about whom they want to govern them. It is disgraceful that this country gave aid for transmigration. These are the very things for which we used to condemn Saddam Hussein—the forced removal of people from one side of the country to another, to an area with which they are not familiar and have no links. That is a disgraceful use of British aid.
Finally, I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to suspend aid to Indonesia until significant human rights improvements occur, to ensure that human rights play a greater role at every level of project assessment, to look to possible reform of the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980 so as to stop aid and arms links, and to ensure that poverty reduction is the primary aim, in line with her stated aims. I hope that my right hon. Friend will apply all those considerations to all aid and development projects—something that the previous Government said they did but, in reality, never did.
§ Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton)
I thank you for this opportunity, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I promise to be brief. I wish to compliment my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on her speech and her appointment and, reaching across party lines, I also wish to compliment her predecessor. I speak from personal experience at the sharp end of these things, and I know of no one more effective, dedicated or persistent than Lady Chalker in helping the afflicted in zones of conflict. Her record was remarkable and will long be remembered. I recall being stuck in central Bosnia in a convoy with the ODA. I looked behind me and saw a truck which the driver had christened "Baroness Chalker of Wallasey". I know of very few politicians who deserve that kind of compliment.
We now have a new Government, a new Department, a new Secretary of State and, no doubt, a new attitude and a new definition, perhaps, of the national interest. There may be a new relationship—or perhaps no relationship at all—between trade and aid. Does this mean that we throw foreign aid money about like confetti? Of course it does not. We must be clear-eyed as well as compassionate, and we must learn the lessons of the past. If we do not, we shall surely be doomed to repeat them.
I speak in a limited way and from personal experience only. A simple motto of two words commends itself to me: never again. Never again must we push food aid into an active war zone when we and the agencies associated with us do not control the secondary distribution. If we do that, we may well find that we prolong rather than shorten the conflict because we are feeding the front-line troops or, at best, putting food in through the window while the murderer stands at the door.
We should confine aid to what is effective, even if it is limited and unspectacular. Never again must a photo opportunity masquerade as policy. We need something simple, as happened in Sarajevo in the summer of 1995 when ODA engineers succeeded before the war was over in restoring gas to the city through gas lines that ran through active minefields. That was an extraordinary contribution by the ODA.
Let there be conditionality. If a Government deny human rights to their own people and threaten other countries, and if their infrastructure is sustained by foreign 169 aid while they lavish their resources on arms, we should not be throwing public money at them. But even conditionality has its limits. Aid can reward and aid can punish. Most of all, however, aid is intended to help the innocent victims of conflict.
In my personal experience, I have observed that the British people are out ahead of their Government and have led the way. It was the British people who raised money for refugees, took refugees into their homes and drove convoys of aid through front lines. In one case, a driver took a fire engine through sniper alley to help people on the other side. Those people made a difference, and the new Department will have achieved something if the idealism of the people is matched by the idealism of the Government and of this House.
§ Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech. I am particularly grateful for the forbearance of colleagues who have sat through two months of maiden speeches. I wish to begin by thanking the people of Bethnal Green and Bow for the privilege and honour of electing me to represent them in the House.
I am particularly honoured to follow in the footsteps of my predecessor, the right hon. Peter Shore, who returns to Westminster as Lord Shore of Stepney. Lord Shore represented his constituency for a remarkable 32 years, during which time he greatly distinguished himself and rose to the rank of Minister. He always used his elevated status to benefit his constituents. I therefore wish to extend their heartfelt thanks to Lord and Lady Shore, who are genuinely admired and respected in my constituency.
I also wish to pay tribute to Mildred Gordon, the former Member for Bow and Poplar. She has been a tireless campaigner on local issues, and continues to help me on such issues, most notably the Civilians Remembered campaign. We hope to get an adequate memorial for those civilians in London who suffered and died during the second world war. I hope to emulate the dedication and commitment that both my predecessors brought to the House.
There are four other hon. Members to whom I wish to pay tribute and in whose footsteps I tread—my hon. Friends the Members for Tottenham (Mr. Grant), for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) and for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng). These four black Members of Parliament, elected in 1987, have played a critical role in extending the representative nature of our democracy. I am also honoured to be the second black woman to take up a seat in this Chamber.
What gives me most pleasure is representing a truly multicultural constituency. Bethnal Green and Bow is one of the most multicultural constituencies in Britain. It has within it the heart of the east end, an area that has achieved almost mythical status in the minds of British schoolchildren. The east end's rich cultural heritage is unique. Since the 16th century. Tower Hamlets has witnessed a succession of immigrants, from the Huguenots to the Irish, the Jews, the Africans, the Chinese, the Somalis, the West Indians, the Pakistanis and the Bangladeshis. I pay tribute to the Bangladeshi community who, despite suffering some of the worst 170 deprivation in this country, continue to play a constructive and productive role in society, particularly in the business community.
I wish to pay tribute also to the east end's white community. Cockneys are legendary, as are their drive, ambition, courage and wit. I genuinely give thanks that my children will be born in the east end and brought up as east enders. I salute those who continue to bind our cosmopolitan community together with tolerance and respect. For me, racism is not an academic point. My father is black and my mother is Jewish. As a child in Newcastle, my mother was lined up against a wall and stoned because—as her schoolmates put it—she, as a Jew, was responsible for the death of their Lord.
My father has been in exile for 32 years from his country as a result of the racist practices of a racist state. I am "multi-ethnic", although I have also been called names such as yid, nigger, wog, half-caste and mongrel. Those are unparliamentary terms, but I hope that my background can be a bridge between two cultures.
I love the east end because it is Britain's answer to Manhattan's melting pot. It remains a remarkable place, only a stone's throw from Westminster. I might be slightly biased, but it is without doubt the jewel in Britain's urban inner-city crown—do not laugh, we actually have the Crown jewels in the Tower of London. There are also our hidden treasures, such as Spitalfields, which has just had a fantastically successful festival. There are more artists in my constituency per square yard than in any other place in Europe. Every name evokes a response: Victoria park, Columbia flower market, Whitechapel art gallery, Stepney, Bow, Wapping, Mile End, Aldgate. Anonymity is not an attribute with which my constituency is acquainted.
I confess to being hopelessly proud of my constituency. It is where hardship and deprivation gave birth to Britain's greatest social reforms. Let us not forget that William Beveridge and Clement Attlee both lived in the east end and worked at Toynbee hall. Both were surrounded by an east end infant mortality rate of 55 per cent. Their experiences led them to formulate the radical programme of social reform that led to our NHS.
The east end also has a celebrated tradition in the credentials of organised labour. It was where Ben Tillett led the dockers and where the match girls went on strike in 1880 to improve their pay of 30p for a 60-hour week. Those early trade unionists could have only dreamt of the "fairness, not favours" that the new Labour Government offer.
"Fairness, not favours" is the essential characteristic of this debate. Is it fair that in 1997 more than I billion people live in absolute poverty, or that the poorest 20 per cent. have seen their share of the global cake reduced to less than 2 per cent? That is truly crumbs scattered from the table. The answer, of course, is that life is not fair. But what if making life fairer also makes life more stable and sustainable? Those are things that big business holds dear to its heart. Educating Government and business to act in that way is the task of the new Department of International Development.
I applaud my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for putting development at the heart of government. I applaud her also for her fixation, as it has been described by a Conservative Member, on the eradication of poverty. I, too, have a fixation: an image that I can 171 never wipe from my mind, of a young man of 20 or 25 lying on a railway station platform in Delhi. His moans were barely audible. When I looked closer, I saw that sores covered his entire body. Looking closer still. I saw that the sores were infested with maggots. I say that not for effect but because I witnessed that man literally being eaten alive. At the time, I felt that I could do nothing other than make the pitiful offer of water, which was a bit like offering a bandage to a terminally ill cancer patient. Eventually, I turned away from that man and got on the train. I have never been able to get that man's face and suffering out of my mind. There are millions of people around the world who are literally and metaphorically being eaten alive by poverty. That is why the Government's White Paper, the first for 22 years on the subject, is so desperately needed and so welcome.
There is no doubt that Britain's international development policy needs a new direction. The Secretary of State signalled a shift this morning by hoisting the British flag at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Another important shift in our policy is the refocus on tackling abject poverty and the causes of poverty. As the Government have outlined, there is a general acknowledgment that by 2015 we could halve the number of people in poverty if we can find the political will. People sometimes ask: "What do politicians do? What is a politician's job?' It is our job to find and ignite that political will, because, in the meantime, 35,000 children die every day from preventable diseases while we try to do our job.
On children's suffering, I would like to make the obvious point that children become adults. I have always found it curious that an abandoned child can make us weep for the sake of humanity but, once that child becomes an adult, we feel free to dry our tears. It is humanity that is in the balance, not just humanity's children. We must educate ourselves to recognise our global connections. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out, we cannot privatise the problems facing the planet.
The most important factor for the countries of the south is not the aid, or development assistance, that they can receive from us in the north, but the harsh trading terms imposed on them by the north. We do not merely give with one hand and take away with the other; we give with one hand, then knock them over the head, beat them unconscious and rob them with the other. During the decade since the onset of the debt crisis in 1982, the poor countries of the south have exported to the rich countries of the north the equivalent of six times the aid under the Marshall plan, the programme agreed at Bretton Woods to help Europe recover after the second world war. Let us nail the lie once and for all: we are not net contributors to the poorest countries of the world; they are net contributors to us.
We must bring coherence to our strategy for eradicating poverty. That is what the Government set out to do. That means considering, in the round, the problems of globalisation and liberalisation. On that point, I thank Oxfam and the many other excellent non-governmental organisations that have done so much work to point out that globalisation is a double-edged sword. While opportunities open up, competition intensifies. Corporate directors are better able to protect themselves from the 172 consequences of competition than those at the bottom of the pile. Without internationally agreed standards, greater competition is achieved at the expense of unacceptably low labour standards and environmental degradation.
The poorest people in the world still earn what the match girls in my constituency earned in 1880–30p a week. In Nicaragua, I worked with people who earned not much more than that. To lessen their inestimable suffering is the vast and unenviable task that the Government have set themselves. It will require a mammoth effort to educate ourselves, but we know the Government's commitment to education. In 1846, the French historian, Jules Michelet, said:What is the first part of politics? Education. And the second part? Education. And the third? Education.One hundred anti fifty years later, that has a reassuringly familiar ring to it.
Let us educate ourselves on the needs of humanity. This Government embrace one-nation politics, but we must go further: one nation, one planet, one future. That is the lesson that we must learn from this debate.
§ Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bethnal Green anti Bow (Ms King) on a truly first-class maiden speech. It was pertinent and relevant and everyone who heard it will remember it for a long time. It says much for the thriving abilities of the House of Commons that Members such as her come to us. Among hon. Members' greatest concerns as we go around our constituencies is the feeling that too many people have become disillusioned with contemporary politics. Her presence, and that of many other new Members, can only augur well for the well-being of Westminster as a whole.
The whole House will want to thank the Secretary of State and the business managers for giving us the opportunity to debate international development policies. All too often, we have a debate once a White Paper has been published, not before. I appreciate the Secretary of State's difficulties. I am sure that she arrived in her Department and was confronted with a budget of which—for perfectly good reasons which we all understand—more and more is taken each year for multilateral projects and aid. There is nothing wrong with multilateral aid. There is much that is good about it, but it requires some fairly strong scrutiny and means that the scope for United Kingdom bilateral aid is more limited. One appreciates the tension created by that scope being shrunk.
As the Under—Secretary of State for International Development said yesterday, the first calls on the bilateral aid programme are the dependent territories. We are seeing that clearly in what is having to happen in Montserrat. There cannot be a scintilla of criticism for what the Department of International Development or the West Indian and Atlantic department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is doing in Montserrat. I am sure that everyone is doing all that can be done. Some of the comments in the press today were less than fair.
Anyone who has been fortunate enough to visit Montserrat, as I did when I was a Minister, recognises that the logistics of that island are difficult. One has a great understanding of the difficulties that the Government face in this predicament. It must be difficult to decide whether to rebuild Montserrat or to relocate 173 people. I have no doubt that, in due course, those on the Treasury Bench will explain to the House, having consulted the people and the Government of Montserrat, what they intend to do. One appreciates that countries such as Montserrat, the Turks and Caicos Islands and others take up a substantial part of the bilateral aid budget.
I understand why the Government want to have a look at how international development money is spent, but I am concerned that in the process we may not include the private sector sufficiently. Around the world there is much that United Kingdom industry, technology and science can, and do, offer to the developing world. It was impressive to see the Cairo waste water project undertaken by Thames Water and others, with some help from the Overseas Development Administration. Many such first-class projects around the world have brought water, electricity and power to thousand of millions of people who would not have had them without the contribution of United Kingdom know-how and technology.
As Oxfam says in the briefing paper that it has sent to all Members of Parliament:In the modern globalised economy, the economic success of any country depends heavily on trade and on the investment it can attract.We have to involve the private sector. I noticed that Magnus Linklater, in his article in The Times a few days ago, said:
The future of development depends on investment from the private sector as much as it dots on Government aid. The Third World needs British goods, technology, experience, management techniques and long-term assistance. It is more efficient and effective than anything a non-governmental organisation can provide.I do not want to get hung up on whether we should have the aid and trade provision in its existing form. It is included in forward public spending plans for the next three years. I hope that the Government's White Paper will make clear the role that they see for the United Kingdom private sector in our development projects and ensure that it has a role to play.
As other hon. Members have said, there has been a fundamental review of ODA expenditure. The main report was published as recently as July 1995. It concluded that ATP had a useful purpose and said:
Given the signs that the Helsinki disciplines are reducing demand, and that the quality of ATP projects since the 1993 reforms is no different from that of bilateral country programmes as a whole, there is little case for winding up the scheme.I was slightly surprised, therefore, by the Secretary of State's recent comments to the House in oral questions and I hope that she can explain them to the House. She said:we are reviewing the aid and trade provision. There is much evidence that it is neither developmentally nor commercially beneficial.I am not sure what that evidence is or where it comes from. She went on to say:I am sure that Conservative Members would not want to featherbed the inefficiency of British companies by a sort of backward-looking tying of minor parts of the aid programme when all the evidence and research undertaken by my Department and the OECD shows that it encourages inefficiency and damages the developmental quality of aid projects."—[Officicial Report, 25 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 830–31.]174 But many, if not all—so far as I know—such projects have been first-class examples of United Kingdom industry and technology. It would help the House if we had some understanding of the way in which the Secretary of State felt that such projects had failed. Certainly no one wishes to featherbed inefficient United Kingdom industry—far from it—but I hope that we can find a mechanism in the development programme for involving the best of British industry and technology.
I understand that the Secretary of State is due to make a speech next week on the aid and trade provision. I hope that the potential of British industry can be widely promulgated. Some superb parts of the United Kingdom industry are apprehensive and feel that it is being signalled that their contribution to the developing world is suspect.
The aid and trade provision is overshadowed by the long debate over Pergau. Pergau was an exceptional circumstance and has proved to be very much a one-off. No other project has attracted that sort of criticism. Many other projects to which the private sector has contributed in recent decades have made a long and enduring contribution in the countries in which the investment was made. It would be a tragedy if we minimalised the contribution that United Kingdom industry, technology and exporters can make, in partnership with the Department of International Development and others, to helping the economies of developing countries. I hope that the Secretary of State and the Government will make it clear that there are ways in which the best of British industry, technology and science can continue to make an enduring contribution to development aid and that they do not intend to squeeze out the private sector or marginalise it. It would be a great pity if that happened.
§ Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South)
One of the fears that one has as a Member of Parliament of long standing is that one might have to congratulate an hon. Member on a maiden speech that was not of the quality for which one might have hoped. However, I have no fear in saying that the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) was first rate. I am sure that she will make a tremendous contribution to the House.
I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) on her appointment as Secretary of State for International Development and on the running start that she has made. It is fitting that such a dedicated internationalist with regard to social justice and environmentalism should take up the reins of this important new Department.
Social justice and environmental protection go hand in hand. It is precisely that point that must never be forgotten. It is difficult to think of a country in need of our help that has not been a colony of either Britain or one of our European neighbours. That said, we have not only a special knowledge of many developing countries but a special responsibility for them.
This marriage of social justice and environmental protection has brought some excellent initiatives. They include fair trade—trade not aid, as it is known—intermediate technology and, in agriculture, the "farmer first" approach, pioneered by Robert Chambers. Such initiatives tackle poverty by putting control in the hands of the people, not the aid workers. Poverty is not a choice 175 or a state of mind, but a harsh reality that sometimes drives people to exhaust the very land on which they depend. It we are to alleviate poverty, social justice must be as much about empowerment as about basic rights. Another important element in the alleviation of poverty is access—access to land, to water and shelter, to proper justice, to dignified working rights and to information. Those points are not separate, but intrinsically linked.
It is heartening to see that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State concurs with me on the marriage of social justice and environmental protection. In a recent written answer, she said that her priority in the new Department would be theelimination of poverty through sustainable development. This goal is impossible to achieve without the early stabilisation of world population."—[Official Report, 25 June 1997; Vol. 296. c. 557.]As chair of the all-party group on population development and reproductive health, I welcome those comments.
I wish to expand on two points involving the critical subject of world population growth: access to information and the empowerment of people, particularly women. We must get one thing straight. When considering global population growth, one does not have to be a genius to see that the major factor associated with large families is poverty. If there was a high probability that a large number of my children could die of disease and I did not have a pension. I would be encouraged to have a large family.
If we are to begin to tackle poverty and disease and to help our brothers and sisters throughout the world to lead fruitful and fulfilling lives, we must provide them with access to appropriate reproductive health care. In many other parts of the world where local resources are just adequate to provide for smaller families, there are women who want to plan their families with fewer children. As before, they need access—they need access to family planning. When 70 per cent. of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty are women, such access is critical.
In both scenarios, access to reproductive health clinics is vital. The world population in 1996 was 5.77 billion. The United Nations medium-term projection is that that figure will grow to 9.4 billion by 2050. If poverty is the track of the railway population train and social justice the brake, the critical lever is the empowerment of women. Without environmental protection, there is nowhere to go once we have stopped the train.
I endorse the concepts of the reproductive and sexual health rights enshrined in the 1994 Cairo programme of action, agreed at the United Nations international conference on population and development, and the 1995 Beijing platform for action agreed at the fourth world conference on women. I call on the Department of International Development, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Department of Health to ensure that those international principles and standards are reflected in the implementation of reproductive and sexual health policy programmes and services.
A critical element of the international agenda is how we measure success. The key factor which we have to tackle is poverty. Given that the so-called developed world has not entirely tackled poverty, the bald use of gross domestic product is not necessarily a good measure of quality of life. Those countries with a high GDP may 176 not enhance their population's environment. We need to pay more attention to alternative indicators being pioneered by many non-governmental organisations. One such indicator is the index of sustainable economic welfare, which makes adjustments for aspects of people's lives that GDP ignores. However we measure success, we must succeed—not just for the developing world, but for the world as a whole.
§ 8.3 pm
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)
Many good things have come out of the east end of London, including a long-running television drama. Although no one would pretend that the House of Commons is likely to command the same audiences as that programme, if the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Row (Ms King) continues to speak as she did tonight, the cable television audience for the House of Commons will increase. I congratulate her on her maiden speech.
As many others have done, I should like to welcome the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) to her post as Secretary of State for International Development. I also welcome the Under"Secretary to his post. I have known the right hon. Lady for quite a long time and we have worked together on one or two occasions. She was useless in at least one of those roles: she was my pair for a while, but she was so conscientious that she was completely worthless to me. Nevertheless, her conscientiousness will stand the world's poor in good stead.
As has been said, self-interest and altruism combine in this job. We have a duty to other humans. It is nonsense to suggest that it is an exclusively Christian duty, but Christians should certainly share that sense of duty—even if no one else does. I am glad to say that, in many parts of the world. Christians actively fulfil that duty.
The imbalance of resources, about which we have heard so much tonight, leads to instability, war, disease and—something which has hardly been mentioned in the debate and about which I do not know enough to make a specialist contribution—refugees. It is extraordinary that we have heard so little about refugees because the refugee problem is one of the world's greatest problems, and it is rapidly growing. Many refugees have been condemned to appallingly constricted lives and frequently have little opportunity. Even if they are welcomed at first, they rapidly become a burden on their hosts, who become understandably resentful of their presence. I hope that another contributor to the debate will address that serious matter.
We have also heard about pollution. I believe that most anti-pollution campaigns are a luxury for the rich. If someone is rich enough to do something about a polluted river, he is not normally one of the world's poor. We must take on the responsibility; it has taken us long enough to clean the Thames. It is interesting that the great contribution of Chadwick and his colleagues in introducing drains into British cities was almost entirely because the rich suddenly woke up to the fact that one day they, too, might get cholera. Although there was also a humanitarian aspect, that was the driving force that released the floods of money required.
The job involves detail as well as principles. As has been said, the programme must be cost-effective. As I hinted in an earlier intervention, I believe that 177 volunteers are a major element of that cost-effectiveness. Organisations such as Voluntary Service Overseas reckon that the cost of sending one of their—often highly skilled—volunteers abroad for a year is less than £12,000. That is extraordinarily cost-effective when compared with much of the other aid that is sent abroad. Those volunteers do not stay very long; everyone knows that they are on limited contracts; they do not disrupt the local economy or the local hierarchy. One of the rules of Voluntary Service Overseas is that a volunteer may not go if a local person could do the job equally well. I very much welcome those speakers who have urged the Secretary of State to consider expanding that opportunity.
I hope that the review will be detailed. There are a number of small but telling ways in which the rules of one part of either the Government or the Department militate against the expressed objectives of another. For example, a number of young British people who have qualified as doctors, nurses or schoolteachers decide to work abroad. When they wish to return—perhaps to take a further qualification before returning to contribute to the overseas country—they are charged the full rate as overseas students even though they are British citizens. That cannot make sense. It is nonsense that they should have to pay—they are usually self-funded—the full rate of an overseas student, and I hope that we can look into that.
We have splendid scholarships, such as the Chevening scholarships, for overseas people to come here to learn skills that are of use to their country. Most of those scholarships are not differentiated into bands, with the result that a health worker may have to compete against an engineer or financial expert for a scholarship. It would not be difficult to create priority bands, which would ensure that some people involved in social services got a greater opportunity than they currently enjoy. Many of the countries that send such students are obsessed solely with engineering, financial or computer skills and do not think about the need to improve their health and social services infrastructure.
Earlier, the debate touched on the question of differentiation between countries. We are approaching a point where some of the developing countries are infinitely richer than others, yet all are lumped together for the purposes of many elements of aid. Overseas students who obtain nearly all their money from a donor—whether from the British Council or via the international development budget—are charged exactly the same as self-funding students from Malaysia or some other rich country. That is a small point that needs to be considered.
We should concentrate far more on practical projects. I am sure that the Secretary of State is determined to resist demands for high-tech machinery in countries where there is neither the power to run it nor the staff to maintain it. Many countries are littered with scanning machines and other highly advanced equipment that they have absolutely no way of using. There has usually been connivance between a pushy salesman and someone wanting to ingratiate themselves with whoever wanted the equipment, using aid money to buy a machine that will lie idle when, for the same amount of money, they could have done much better.
We also want to support low-cost projects. In India, I have seen many examples where training children to educate not only their peers but their parents and indeed the whole village in simple hygiene and health care— 178 simple messages—has transformed the lives of villagers. Similarly, women are the key to much development. Drawing again on India, which is the country I know best, I have seen women who have been given basic training and a simple kit transforming the care of everyone in the village. They are trained to diagnose common illnesses and refer them—at once, if necessary—to a health centre; and they can dispense vitamins and simple drugs, carry out injections and keep an eye on child development.
Many of those women develop so fast, it is wonderful to see—their self-confidence increases and I know of one woman who became chairperson of the panchayat or local parish council. The difference such projects make is tangible. As my wife frequently points out to me, when we see riots in foreign countries on television, we see only men, because the women are too busy working. It is worth remembering that women carry the main burden in most places.
The aid world is full of corruption and I urge Ministers to take a serious view of how our aid budget feeds it and what international action can be taken to cut it out. Stopping corruption is terribly important. It takes many forms, such as diversion of aid directly into the wrong pockets and inappropriate projects being chosen because of bribery or because a firm wants a future, bigger contract.
Aid personnel and many consultants are being awarded salaries and fees that are obscenely high in relation to the incomes of those whom they are seeking to help. For example, the United Nations should be far more rigorous in its cost-benefit analysis when deciding whom to send abroad to assist with its programmes. If a year's salary and expenses for one consultant would, for example, pay for 500 village development workers, one has to be jolly sure that employing that consultant will deliver the goods, rather than giving the money to the village development workers. We often do not consider that.
It is important to encourage those British institutions that are seeking to set up training institutions within the countries that need help, instead of expecting their students to come to enormously expensive centres in the west, where practical placements are difficult to find. In some senses, students get inferior training by coming to London, but want to come here because it is prestigious. The cost of their doing so is out of all proportion and there is no reason why developing countries should not sustain training centres.
I have a tenuous connection with a project in Delhi. In a city dominated by the Bharatiya Janata party or BJP—the Hindu fundamentalist Government—efforts are being made to double the project's size, even though the project is not sure that that is desirable. It runs 25 slums in Delhi and the reason why the BJP wants it to expand, even though it is run by a Christian organisation, is that the Christians are not misusing the money. The money is going straight into the work. The medical superintendent of one of the largest ODA projects—an expansion of one of the Delhi hospitals that will nearly double its size—is a man whose simplicity is so amazing that I felt quite humbled when I visited his home.
One of the other elements of corruption can be seen when big western companies deliberately target poor populations to sell abroad what they have been prevented by their domestic Governments from selling at home—for example, tobacco companies. Similarly, companies such 179 as Nestlé are quite ruthless about promoting powdered baby milk in countries where they know that the chances of getting water fit to mix it up properly are very slight. Mother's milk would be infinitely better for the children. Stopping that sort of thing takes concerted action.
Finally, I emphasise the enormous importance of children's rights. Save the Children Fund lobbied me to say that we might well review our stance on children's rights—at least in relation to aid—against the UN convention on the rights of the child. That is something that we might usefully do and I think that we should. A year ago, in Coventry, I ran a day event that produced, among other things, a manifesto created mainly by young people for young people that set out what they wanted to see put into the election manifestos. One of the things that they said that they wanted was either a Minister for children or a commissioner for children. I hope that the new Department will consider every policy it pursues against the question of whether it enhances or damages the rights and aspirations of children. Children comprise more than half of the population in many of the countries we want most to help and, in the end, they are the future.
I wish the new Department well. I hope that I can be of some help to it and I congratulate the Secretary of State and the Minister on the start that they have made.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)
?: As a number of other hon. Members wish to speak. I shall try to truncate my speech. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State must therefore take as read all the nice comments about her that I was going to make—but I congratulate her on her appointment: she will be an important member of the Cabinet, injecting into it the moral purpose that international development is about. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) on the best maiden speech that I have heard in my 14 years in the House. I hope that we shall hear many more such speeches.
As I said, I shall not go into much of the detail that was in my speech. I was going to talk about the need for fair trade, and, indeed, I consider that important. I believe that many countries would rather have more fair trade than more aid, and that we should concentrate on that while trying progressively to remove the protectionism that exists largely in the western world.
Inequality is a problem. One fifth of the world is in dire poverty, with people living on less than $1 a day. The richest fifth has 60 times as much wealth as the poorest, and the gap is increasing. It has doubled since the 1960s. We must tackle that inequality by, at least, increasing the wealth of the poorest in a sustainable way.
Much has been said about debt, and Uganda has been given as an example. Uganda now spends £1 per person on health care and £5.50 on debt repayment. There should be a massive write-off of debt in the poorer nations.
I welcome the new Government's important policy shift towards the eradication of poverty, and away from the last Government's commercial and political links policy, which led to the affair of the Pergau dam. Under that policy, 76p of every £1 of aid was given only if the poor country receiving it used it to buy British, and there was also an unacknowledged but clearly established link with the purchase of arms.
180 That brings me to my main point. Although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made an excellent speech, it contained one omission: my right hon. Friend did not mention the impact of the arms trade on the developing world. There is a connection between that trade and the civil wars that result from it—or even the wars between nations that impoverish people further. Civil wars devastate countries, plunging them and their people deeper into poverty. Britain has prospered by selling arms; jobs in the trade are subsidised to the tune of £12,500 each. We are the world's third largest seller of arms, and four fifths of those arms go to the third world. Every day, the Government pledge about £5 million of taxpayers' money to back arms exports. The whole process is deeply corrupting, counter-productive and murderous.
Recent examples of scandals in this country include the arms to Iraq and Jonathan Aitken affairs. The wars fuelled by the trade cause starvation, the uprooting of people and the flow of refugees; they create world instability. I welcome the Government's moratorium on land mines and their effort to secure a world ban, but I think that much more should be done to curtail the arms trade, in this country and internationally. I know that the Government are working for a European Union code of conduct governing arms sales, and I welcome that, but I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to use her influence in the Government, across Departments, to reduce the arms trade in the interests of third-world development.
The Booker prize-winning author Ben Okri has said:As he millennium draws to a close … this is precisely the time to dream the best dream of all: that no peoples will know starvation, that no nation will be oppressed by another, that tyranny will not be able to exist unpunished, that liberty be given a more glorious song.I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to sing sweetly for international development.
§ Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen)—or, rather, to hear him speak, as this is the first occasion on which I have been able to follow him—because of the directness of the message that he conveys to the House. I endorse his quotation from Ben Okri: the same hope is felt by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I echo what my hon. Friends, and Labour Members, have said about the Secretary of State's predecessor, Lady Chalker. I had the privilege of working with her in the Foreign Office for two years—and it really was a privilege. We have heard how effective she was as Minister for Overseas Development, but she was also hugely effective in carrying out her diplomatic responsibility for Africa. That is one of the responsibilities that have been lost following the introduction of a new Department, which I think is a pity.
I hope that the Secretary of State will reflect on, and give credit to, the legacy that she has inherited from the last Government. The Overseas Development Administration was without compare in terms of the effectiveness and efficiency with which it delivered aid programmes around the world. The United Kingdom had a leading position in regard to debt relief, which was one of the key aspects of our attempt to relieve poverty in the 181 world, and both private and public sectors had a fine and honoured role in the net flow of donations to the developing world.
I believe that our donation of 1.38 per cent. of gross domestic product put us in second place. That was largely a product of the private sector, and of the fact that the UK is one of the largest overseas investors as a result of the openness of our economy and the success of our City institutions, which we must preserve. I hope that they will not be given too much of a hammering in tomorrow's Budget, so that their excellent internationalist approach can continue.
I welcome the review. It is exceptional, in that many policy reviews—for example, the strategic defence review—have been nothing more than a cover for the fact that, when the present Government were in opposition, they chose not to have a policy: organising a review on arriving in government obviated the need to be tied down too specifically.
This review is about the specific objective that the Secretary of State has set herself—to eradicate poverty—but I want to know how aid projects will be implemented in the wake of that policy, and how the ODA' s practices will be overturned over the next 18 months in pursuit of the Secretary of State's specific objective. I think that she is in danger of isolating her Department. She said today that her objectives would not be part of the day-to-day political or commercial objectives of the rest of the Government, and I consider that wrong, because it isolates her Department from the levers that can effectively deliver the policy objectives that we all share.
I find it irritating that, when we discuss these matters, the Secretary of State tries to say that the objective is so noble that it is beyond politics and above party political debate. The delivery of aid and the eradication of poverty—the objectives we share—are not above political debate; they are the very stuff of political debate. The controversy between the two sides of the House is based on the philosophical difference that both main parties bring to the attempt to achieve their objectives.
I do not like my motives being impugned. We share the objective of relieving poverty, but we differ in our philosophical approach. The only real difference between us is that the Conservatives' philosophical approach has worked, while the Labour Government were elected only once they had ditched the true elements of their old philosophy.
I am concerned about the Department's isolation, just as I am concerned about the political isolation of the Secretary of State and the Minister. In a sense, her arrival in charge of development policy in the Labour party was her exile from mainstream Labour politics.
In the most recent International Development Question Time, the Under-Secretary of State for International Development praised co-operatives. That was balanced by the right hon. Lady's failure to endorse free trade, and one began to get the feeling that perhaps the Department is the last outpost of old Labour.
It is important that, in delivering the noble objective which you have set yourselves, you do not do it in isolation either from your colleagues in the Government, from other policy areas, or, as you have said, from the international institutions that are so important in delivering these objectives.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)
Order. The hon. Gentleman should not use the word "you". It refers to the Chair.
§ Mr. Blunt
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that you will forgive a new boy in only his second outing in the Chamber.
I think that the Secretary of State has accepted that she cannot implement the policies alone. She has said:
The aid programme will always be important to our work, but it is not the only instrument we have, and probably not the most important. Everyone concerned about development must widen their horizon to include trade, debt, agricultural policy and so on.To see the truth of that, we have only to look at the Marshall plan, which was the greatest development aid programme this century and the 50th anniversary of which is this year. Despite the enormous transfer of money from the United States to the devastated economies of Europe, it has been estimated that it added only 1 per cent. to the net GDP of European countries. In a sense, far more important was the plan's political and economic message about the confidence of the United States and that of others who had money to invest in Europe.
I agree with the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), who spoke about a new consensus on the role of Governments. That role and the framework they produce in their countries are central to the eradication of poverty. That framework is crucial to the achievement of sustainable development, as is the rule of law, so that people know that they will be able to invest safely and that their property rights and the economic success of the citizens will not be taken through arbitrary Government actions. The success of Hong Kong is a good example of how the British framework has led to huge economic success.
The greatest threat to our shared objectives is political instability. It is regrettable that the new Department has divorced itself from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Political instability—in its worst form, war—will negate all the efforts of international development and hinder the eradication of poverty. The Secretary of State has said that poverty leads to war. It is certain that war leads to poverty.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I do not want to stop the hon. Gentleman in his tracks, but he is developing his speech on the basis of the Department being isolated. I assure him that we are co-operating extremely closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—for example, recently, on Montserrat. We are also co-operating with other Departments, such as the Department of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The important matter is that the International Development Department is separate and works coherently within Whitehall with other Departments. Therefore, the entire premise of the hon. Gentleman's speech is totally wrong.
§ Mr. Blunt
I beg to differ with the hon. Gentleman. The messages sent by the Department since Labour came to office have shown precisely the opposite. There has been no endorsement of free trade or of the importance of world political stability, of the avoidance of war, of diplomacy, or of the armed forces, in sustaining a stable global environment that will enable the Government to deliver their objective of the eradication of poverty.
In examining her Department in the review, I hope that the right hon. Lady and her Under-Secretary of State will sustain the success that the Overseas Development 183 Administration has already delivered in programmes around the world. I hope that they will not turn those programmes upside down in the next 18 months by trying to get it to take direct action on the elimination of poverty. I trust that they will look at the whole operational environment, and will examine political, economic and commercial issues in delivering the objectives that we share.
§ Ms Christine Russell (City of Chester)
I am delighted to be called to make my maiden speech in this important debate. Over the past five hours, we have heard many moving and thought-provoking speeches, none more so than the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King).
I care passionately about international development, and I know from my postbag that it is dear to the hearts and minds of my constituents. I am sad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not in the Chamber. If she had been, I would have reminded her of her excellent visit to University college, Chester, some three months ago, when she joined me in bidding farewell to a group of students who were going to work on aid projects, half of them in South America and the other half in Africa.
Chester is a truly international city. We welcome over 6 million visitors a year. I think that the second most photographed clock in the world is the Eastgate clock, which is second only to Big Ben, and which celebrates its centenary this year. Wherever one treads in Chester, one steps on 2,000 years of history. Roman walls encircle the city. It has unique mediaeval rows, splendid black and white Tudor buildings and fine Georgian squares. However, Chester is no fossilised museum piece: it is a living, vibrant city, which cherishes its past but looks forward with confidence to its third millennium.
It is customary in maiden speeches to pay tribute to one's predecessors, but because of the late hour I shall be brief. The first Members of Parliament were elected in 1661, and up to 1886 the city returned two Members. I have looked through the annals in the record office, and noted that the name Grosvenor dominates that period. That is the family name of one of my better-known constituents, the Duke of Westminster. The duke is at present out of action, indisposed, and I should like to send him my best wishes for a speedy recovery.
Until 1 May, the people of Chester had only once returned a non-Conservative Member. He was the legendary Alfred Mond, who was one of the founders of ICI and represented the city as a Liberal Member from 1906 to 1910. Up to the election of my immediate predecessor, Gyles Brandreth, in 1992, the electorate of Chester had placed remarkable trust in their Members of Parliament, because the previous four had all been re-elected for five consecutive terms. However, two calendar months ago, the people of Chester democratically decided to write yet another chapter in the city's long history, by electing their first ever Labour Member, and their first woman Member.
As some hon. Members will know, Gyles Brandreth was a colourful Member of Parliament who tried hard to live down his woolly-jumper image. I am sure that he will be remembered in the history books for the Marriage Act 184 1994, which permitted couples to tie the knot in weird and wonderful locations, but he will also be remembered in Chester for his personal commitment to developing world issues. He was instrumental in establishing a world development group that encompassed the local branches of Oxfam, the United Nations Children's Fund, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, the UN Association, and many other organisations. Unfortunately, as we have heard today, his party in government did not show the same level of commitment to the overseas aid budget. During their tenure of office, the budget fell from 0.51 per cent. of GNP to a miserly 0.27 per cent.
Our new Government have made a superb start by putting international development at the heart of government. Not only here in Britain, but at the Denver summit and at the UN General Assembly special session on the environment and sustainable development, the Prime Minister has spelt out our determination to rescue the global environment for future generations.
I congratulate the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for International Development on achieving in eight weeks what the previous Government failed to achieve in 18 years—reaffirming our commitment to the UN target of 0.7 per cent. of GNP, refocusing the aid budget on assistance to the poorest people in the poorest countries, rejoining UNESCO, and redoubling Britain's commitment to eliminate global poverty and inequality.
Two years ago, I attended my daughter's graduation ceremony at Sussex university. There I listened to an impassioned plea by Charles Wheeler, the renowned BBC foreign correspondent, for the funding of places for overseas students. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Sussex university built a fine reputation for allocating 10 per cent. of its places to overseas students. I believe that more than half of Nelson Mandela's Cabinet were educated at the university, but, by 1994. Sussex, in common with other academic institutions, was struggling financially to support overseas students who were unable to meet the full costs of their tuition fees.
We all recognise, and many hon. Members have said, that improvements to health, education and sanitation are the keys to tackling poverty and its causes in developing countries, but grant aid alone is not enough. Developing countries need trained doctors, nurses, engineers, scientists—and, yes, politicians who are committed to democratic systems of government.
Our new Government have education as their number one priority, and have pledged to improve Britain's standing and influence in the wider world. What better way is there in which to marry those twin goals than again to encourage and support our colleges and universities to open their doors to students from developing countries, particularly those in Africa and the Indian sub-continent? Therefore, I hope that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for International Development will take a fresh look at what educational opportunities Britain can offer to students from poorer countries.
On behalf of my constituents—there are many of them—who work tirelessly for the people of the world who live in abject poverty, may I say that we are absolutely delighted by the wind of change that has blown through the corridors of Whitehall in the past eight weeks. We look forward with eager anticipation to the autumn and the first White Paper on international development for 22 years.
§ Mr. Howard Flight (Arundel and South Downs)
May I, also still a new boy, congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Ms Russell) on a fluent, warm and kind maiden speech. I share her views entirely about British education and about expanding places at our universities. Despite the risk that people may stay here and work, most go back to their countries and make a valuable contribution.
I echo the tribute that has been paid by others to Baroness Chalker, who even Labour Members would agree did the best that she could with the resources available to her. On the subject of resources, one point has been missed, however: the growing contribution from the voluntary sector. I am involved in the same charitable operation in New Delhi to which my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) referred. The fact that there is effectively a tax break for individual charitable contributions has been a tremendous benefit and has increased the flow of individual giving. In many areas, that can provide the best value and the most focused help.
I should like, however, to speak about the other side of the coin. This is a debate about international development policies, not just aid. I agree that it is time for a review of aid policy. Much has happened in the past 15 years, but the private sector is crucial in relation to international development and we need to understand why some emerging economies have been so successful and others less successful, and to understand the interaction of the private sector with the Government sector.
Let us start with the crude flows of money. I think that the total global flows of aid come to about £55 billion. The flows of private capital total about £230 billion per annum: more than four times as many resources flow, one way or another, into developing economies from the private sector. One needs to think about why they flow. Why has China done so particularly well? Why have some countries in South America done so well and what are the lessons to be learnt? China still has a totalitarian and one-state Government, but they have committed themselves to essentially capitalist reforms and to bringing in the rule of law and Anglo-Saxon style market practices—an alien climate for China.
The World bank has recently issued an important report from an analysis of some 133 developing countries. It pointed to some key factors. It said that, unless there is an effective Government, a legal foundation, effective macro-economic policy and adequate investment in infrastructure, in essence, an operative Government, not only will the private sector not go into that country, but aid will not be effective. The report pointed to some of the failures recently in Bangladesh, which has added 500,000 people to its civil service and increased its ministries from 21 to 35, with disastrous results. It has become almost impossible to implement policies. Therefore, whether it is private or state sector, countries need an effective state.
The report also said that, if countries want capital flows, they have to have policies that will attract them. There is no point having exchange controls, excessive taxation on dividends or a wholly dominant nationalised sector. Countries have to have an open market economy. The particular success of China can be related to the harnessing of its diaspora. There are many other countries throughout the world where that can be a key element in success.
186 I had the privilege to work in India as part of my career and remain closely associated with it. It is Asia's second giant, having 970 million people. It is a country with which Britain will continue to have particularly close relations for historic and cultural reasons. It will be Britain's key emerging economy partner in the next 50 years.
Until 1991, India had a poor record. Its growth was 2 per cent. Few will remember that, in 1948, its export record was better than that of Japan. In fact, its economy was larger than that of Japan. Contrast the two over the period that followed and there is much to be learnt. India put in protection and fell behind technologically. It nationalised much of its productive sector and became corrupt and inefficient. It put up barriers to foreign investment, controlled prices, controlled credit and put in exchange control. Eventually, it came close to becoming a client of Russia.
It was the collapse of Russia that led to the opening up of India in 1991, but previously, in the name of helping the poor, those policies produced growth of some 2 per cent. per annum in comparison to the 9 per cent. per annum that China has achieved for the past 20 years. We know that there was a major change in 1991. I pay particular tribute to India's Finance Minister, who had the bravery to implement those changes.
There is still much to do, but India has become an open market economy. Foreign capital flows have risen, but my appeal is for more. Interestingly, India receives some US$6 billion in aggregate aid. Its free market capital flows are of the order of US$8 billion to US$10 billion, against nearly US$100 billion that goes to China. It is my hope that British businesses, utilities and the many British companies that have been associated with India will take up the challenge that is there. India needs US$250 billion of infrastructure investment in the next decade. It will not be able to finance this from its own resources. It will not be able to finance this from aid projects. It needs to finance it on the international markets, with the help and collaboration of western businesses.
I am often amused when I look at a business like Unilever, which we all associate with being a European business and which is focused on its businesses in continental Europe. Yet Unilever has in India a most successful company. I forecast that, within 20 years, it will become a greater part of the Unilever empire than the whole of Europe put together. My message for British business is that I believe that the time is right for India. There is a massive opportunity over the next 50 years. Let us see the commercial sector do in India what it has done in China, and let Britain play a major role in that.
§ Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon)
I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate on international aid and development. Not only do I have a keen interest in development issues, but it is an area about which many of my constituents in South Swindon express their concern. I particularly welcome the work of groups in South Swindon such as the World Development Movement, the Real World Coalition and the Church Social Responsibility Group, to name just a few. Their contribution is very much appreciated. Swindon is twinned with Ocotal in Nicaragua—a relationship that is of great benefit to both communities. I pay tribute to all those groups and initiatives.
187 We live in a world of growing inequality, both within and between countries. The threats that we all face from environmental degradation and the uncontrolled spread of weapons and new diseases affect the poor far more than they do the rich. The poorest countries in the world are facing greater hurdles than ever before. As economic competition in the rest of the world intensifies, it leaves those at the bottom end increasingly marginalised and isolated. The Labour party recognises that trend and wishes to reverse it, to reverse the increase in the polarities of wealth and to give prominence to development issues. I am proud to be part of the Labour party.
I should like to recommend four priorities for the new International Development Department—reducing the debts of the poorest nations, making enterprise work and not hindering the poor, the quality of aid and the quantity of aid. Other hon. Members have made the main points on reducing the debts of the poorest nations. On the recently agreed heavily indebted poor countries initiative, we need to do all that we can to push the IMF and the World bank to take swift action to simplify and to speed up the proposals, to relieve the strains on the poorest nations. Failure to do so will result in a loss of credibility with Governments. Countries that are implementing their part of the deals should be rewarded with action and not with a move of the goalposts.
My second point covers enterprise and investment flows to developing countries. I argue that foreign investment in developing countries should not always be welcomed. We should encourage enterprise to improve conditions for the poorest people and discourage it when it further disadvantages them. The previous Government encouraged free market enterprise in developing countries, but it often led to adjustment programmes which cut vital, basic services. The adjustment programmes sometimes led to the growth of a middle class and a boom in consumer spending for it, but the poorer classes felt a loss of security in jobs and in basic service provision. The lessons from these countries' experience must be learnt for the future. Enterprise must help and not hinder the poorest people.
We are about to make further problems for the poorest people in the poorest countries. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development—I shall call it the industrialised countries—is currently negotiating a multilateral agreement on investment, which I shall call the investment agreement, to be signed in May 1998. The pressure for developing countries to join the investment agreement, despite being excluded from its negotiations, will be intense.
The investment agreement is aimed at protecting the rights of foreign investors and removing restrictions to the free movement of investment capital around the world. Multinationals would remain free to act in their own interests without obligations to observe any form of minimum standards of public welfare, the environment or fair business practices.
The idea of free markets sounds great. We all like the idea of freedom, but unfettered free markets enable those with power, richer countries, richer companies and richer individuals, to gain for themselves more power and more wealth at the expense of those in the poorer bracket who 188 have less influence. The investment agreement promotes liberalisation as an end in itself instead of giving priority to combating poverty and protecting the environment, workers, consumers, indigenous cultures and vulnerable groups in society. Therefore, negotiations on the investment agreement should stop. The talks should then be restarted with representatives not only of industrialised but of developing countries—so that together we can agree on the rights and, more importantly, the responsibilities of multinationals.
The third matter that I should like to deal with is the quality of aid. Our aid must be focused on the poorest countries and on the poorest people within those countries. In recent years, that approach has been adopted by the Government. In 1995, almost 70 per cent. of bilateral aid was provided to the poorest countries. Further progress, however, is necessary, and I hope that no hon. Member is satisfied with the current percentage. We should aim for at least 80 per cent. if not more of our aid to be provided to the poorest countries.
I look forward to the White Paper on international development. Primary legislation could help to establish appropriate boundaries in the acceptable use of aid funds. Links between aid spending and arms exports have been established and the Pergau dam case demonstrated inappropriate use of aid. My constituents would not support aid being used for such purposes.
I understand the logic of links between aid and other British contracts, as envisaged by the aid and trade provision. Co-operation, by which British companies get work on overseas contracts to help poor countries, sounds fine in principle, but history has shown that such tied aid does not work. Tied aid warps priorities, to the detriment of the poor. Let us therefore free our aid budgets from those ties and transfer the aid and trade provision budget to programmes for the poorest people in the world.
Although some British exporters will object to that proposal, others believe that the interests of British business are served best by promoting fair international competition and not by hidden aid subsidies that distort the economy and waste taxpayers' funds.
I am sure that Labour will focus assistance where it is most needed and where it will reap the most benefit—in those countries that attack poverty and respect the principles of human rights and good government. The impact of our aid projects on the environment and on women and children as well as men should always be considered.
Finally, I should like to deal with the matter of the quantity of aid. Spending plans for the last financial year, under a Conservative Government, included the first cash cut in the aid budget for more than 20 years and show the mess that the previous Government made of the United Kingdom's finances. The poorest in the world suffered because of the Tories' economic mismanagement. The current Government have inherited those plans, which envisage a cut in aid of more than 10 per cent. by 1999–2000. We must change those plans.
Earlier in the debate, I heard Conservative Members trying to sing the praises of their aid record by counting not only public funds but private investment. I have already said that private investment is not always good. I will therefore ask them not to hide under the cloak of inappropriate other figures, because there is a real human cost to aid budget cuts.
189 I know how important it was to my mother that her children did not go to sleep hungry at night. She succeeded in preventing that, but it saddens her as much as it saddens me that, around the globe, 800,000 mothers cannot do the same. With political will and political action, we can change much in the current situation. We need plans, over two terms of a Labour Government, to achieve the UN aid target of 0.7 per cent. of national income. I am pleased that Labour is committed to increasing aid levels to the poorest countries and to reversing the downward aid trend of the previous Administration.
There is considerable support in my constituency for overseas aid, although some people tell me that charity begins at home. It is true that there are many poverty-related problems in the United Kingdom, and that health and education require more investment. I am confident that, during the term of the Labour Government, we will find more funds for them. However, Britain has international obligations also.
I want Britain to lead the world in co-operation with other countries, and it is in our long-term interest to help poorer countries. If their economic fortunes improve, there will be more markets for our products. If those countries develop with greater foresight in environmental issues, we can safeguard our planet for the enjoyment of all, rather than choking together in the fumes of world wide industrialisation.
In asking for us to plan to hit the UN aid target of 0.7 per cent. of national income, I urge that particular attention be paid to development education in the United Kingdom. Such education is not only needed so that our citizens know what the Government are doing with their money, but it could provide huge joy and opportunities to UK citizens as they learn about development issues domestically and abroad.
I am optimistic about the future of international development under the new Labour Government. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development to ensure that our Government, first, help to reduce the debts of the poorest countries; secondly, allow enterprise to work to help the poorest in the world, and stop it where it is working to the detriment of poor people; thirdly, concentrate our aid on the poorest people in the poorest countries, which means stopping tied aid; and, finally, plan now to increase the quantity of aid that we provide—so that, by the second term of a Labour Government, we can proudly hit the UN target of 0.7 per cent. of national income spent on aid.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Many hon. Members have been in the Chamber throughout the debate. If hon. Members will keep their speeches brief, I may be able to call on another one or two hon. Members to speak.
§ 9.3 pm
§ Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)
This has been an outstanding debate. I congratulate the Secretary of State for International Development on both her speech and her appointment. I congratulate also our shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad).
The tradition of British involvement in overseas aid is legendary. I join hon. Members who have paid tribute to Baroness Chalker, whose work in overseas 190 development—especially the extensive policy review that she conducted while in government—is recognised around the world. I also draw the House's attention to the work of Lord Plumb, who as co-chairman of the joint European Union and African, Caribbean and Pacific assembly has a special role to play in overseas development policy.
I should like to put straight the British record under the previous Conservative Government. In cash terms—I do not think that the Secretary of State for International Development would disagree with this inheritance—we are the sixth largest donor in the world. In gross domestic product terms, we are the second largest donor after the Netherlands. At a time when aid budgets are being cut in Italy by 36 per cent. and in Canada by more than 20 per cent., it is important that it is recognised that the Conservative target of halving the numbers of those living in poverty by 2015 has been adopted by the Labour Government. I welcome that.
Britain's bilateral aid programme targets poverty, as the Secretary of State emphasised. Can the Secretary of State confirm today that the White Paper will recommend increasing levels of bilateral aid to achieve that target?
Britain contributes substantially through multilateral aid, and particularly through the European Union. The EU provided 46 per cent. of all official development assistance received by developing countries in 1994, the last year for which figures are available. I welcome the decision to rejoin UNESCO, but the annual cost will be an initial £5 million, rising to £12 million. Will the Secretary of State give an assurance today that UK bilateral assistance will not be reduced to meet those international commitments?
Aid is given to central and eastern Europe and to the former Soviet Union. It is important that we recognise the role within western Europe of our trading partners in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. We must recognise also that those countries are applicants to the European Union. Substantial aid is being provided from two sources. Both technical assistance and market reforms go through the UK know-how fund and the PHARE and TACIS—Technical Aid to the Commonwealth of Independent States—programmes, which are administered by the EU. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will appreciate that PHARE stands for Poland and Hungary Assistance for the Restructuring of the Economy.
Substantial economic aid of this nature enables central and eastern European countries to make the difficult transition from centrally planned to market-oriented economies. The aid provides economic stability and increases the standard of living of the countries that receive it. It gives British firms opportunities to find new markets for their goods and services.
The role of the African, Caribbean and Pacific joint assembly with the EU, especially through the Lomé convention—it has been explained already that the convention is due to expire and be renewed in 2000—is promoting the economies of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. I believe that the emphasis must be placed on investment in people and the creation of business. Investment in education and training is the key to the future economic development of the countries that are receiving aid.
191 Does the Secretary of State agree, however, that it is not for us in the developed world to dictate how moneys should be used? Investment decisions must be taken on the basis of mutual agreement. There must be transparency in investment and we must do all that we can to stamp out corruption in every form.
Corporate and international development should be about economic and social development. It should also be about stability, tolerance and conflict avoidance. I believe that the Secretary of State referred to a 40 per cent. contribution by the UK through the EU and 15 per cent. through the World bank. Given the considerable sum donated by the UK through the EU, it should be recognised that the EU, with that UK backing, has a dominant role to play in assisting developing countries.
§ Miss McIntosh
I fear not, because of the lateness of the hour. Perhaps I shall be able to allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene on another occasion.
In the White Paper, will the Secretary of State elaborate on Britain's role, with Europe, in assisting developing countries, particularly through the Lomé convention and through PHARE, TACIS and other central and eastern European aid programmes such as the know-how fund, and on how to ensure that those programmes are expanded?
The Secretary of State mentioned the banana question. It is a problem not of straight or curved bananas, but of bananas from the Caribbean or from Europe. As well as talking about pesticides, I hope that the Secretary of State will address the burning issue of the preference of European and British housewives for smaller rather than larger bananas. Perhaps we can explore how to solve that problem in the future.
Much has been said in the debate about more trade and less aid. I hope that the Secretary of State recognises that trade brings in three times as much for developing countries as official aid and is a vital engine for economic development and growth. I hope that she will also undertake to eradicate corruption in the implementation of aid policy at every level.
Britain's international development policy must consist of a balance of measures to promote the best interests of developing nations. We must continue our role in multilateral aid, but not at the expense of bilateral aid. I hope, too, that Britain's international development policy will be grounded in economic reality, firmly recognising the benefits of free trade and the opportunities for Britain's private enterprise in helping to regenerate the third world in the context of a truly free market in the provision of goods and services in developing countries.
The Secretary of State has a wonderful opportunity in the White Paper to elaborate on our role in achieving those aims through the European Union. I hope that she will take that opportunity.
§ Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
I join all the previous speakers in welcoming the Secretary of State and her Minister to their new posts. They have a mammoth task, but I have no doubt that they will succeed. They have our warmest wishes.
Tomorrow the Chancellor presents his Budget. I hope that, just this once, he will forget that he is the puritanical son of a manse and announce an increase in the aid budget. That would be true to new Labour and, perhaps even more importantly, true to the memory of the late John Smith, who was very much old Labour, but whose credentials on overseas aid were second to none. He determined that within a five-year Parliament the United Nations target would be met. I hope that we shall reach that target of increasing aid from 0.27 per cent. of gross domestic product to 0.7 per cent. within five years.
I should like a greater proportion of the United Kingdom aid budget to be devoted to women's reproductive health issues, the importance of which in reducing poverty in less developed countries can hardly be overstated. I understand that the Department of International Development would like to devote 4 per cent. of the aid budget to reproductive health services. Only 3 per cent. of the budget is currently spent on that—about £70 million a year. Over five years, we should be aiming for 4 per cent. of 0.7 per cent. of GDP devoted to reproductive health services rather than the present 3 per cent. of 0.27 per cent. of GDP. If the Department adhered to that, and if the Chancellor adhered to John Smith's dreams, the amount per annum going to women's reproductive health services would rise over five years from £70 million to £200 million.
More resources should be devoted to adolescents in less developed countries. Resources and projects need to be concentrated on understanding adolescent sexuality. After all, 20 per cent. of the world's population are aged between 10 and 19. In 1995, of the world's 1.6 billion adolescents, 913 million came from the less developed countries. In those countries, some 45 per cent. of the population are under 25 years old. We need to be sensitive to their needs. Adolescents want information, education and services. I am pleased that that is an area in which the international charity, Population Concern, does considerable work of a very high quality in some of the less developed countries, with the aid of the Department of International Development. Nevertheless, both it and other non-governmental organisations could do more.
The current problem with overseas projects that target adolescents can be summed up in one word: sustainability. The current theory of the Department is that, once those projects have been running for three years, they must be able to sustain themselves—that is to say, finance themselves. This theory, which I will call the Adam Smith-von Hayek-Thatcherite theory, is in itself unsustainable.
Many such projects will never be able to finance themselves after three years. Adolescents the world over do not think or act as the Department would have us believe. Adolescents in less developed countries quite simply do not have personal budgets for reproductive health services. Indeed, I very much doubt that adolescents in this country have personal budgets for reproductive health services. I invite the Department to get real and come down to earth. We have to start talking about subsidies rather than sustainability in this area.
193 When seeking to help adolescents, the Department will have to confront more directly the issue of abortion, which has had some publicity recently. What Marie Stopes offers adolescents in the United Kingdom today—quick, safe abortions in a comfortable environment—the Department ought to encourage others to offer adolescents in less developed countries tomorrow. In such countries, women have a right to abortions without pain, without shame, without guilt and without unnecessary psychological stress.
Baroness Chalker—I pay tribute to her, as have many Conservative Members—is to be congratulated on taking on the Vatican on abortion at a number of international conferences, but truth to tell, perhaps for very understandable reasons, she did skirt around the issue. I agree with her that abortion is not a method of contraception, but that phrase can be used as a cop-out for Governments.
On the issue of sexual and reproductive health rights, the notion of rights is not much used by the new Labour puritans, who talk instead of duties and responsibilities. In my view, however, the Department of International Development should be thinking in terms of the concept of sexual and reproductive rights and putting them at the centre of its White Paper. As one of my hon. Friends said, the International Planned Parent Federation is to be congratulated on drawing up a charter of rights in this area.
I should like to mention just two rights which I believe are extremely important. First, there is the right to liberty and security of the person, which recognises that all people must be free to enjoy and control their sexual and reproductive lives and that no person should be subject to forced pregnancy, sterilisation or abortion. The second is the right to privacy, meaning that all sexual and reproductive health care services should be confidential and that all women should have the right to autonomous reproductive choices.
The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) kept talking about population control, and I kept freaking out every time he did so. We should be talking about population concern and giving people choices after they have received information, education and the provision of the services that they need. Then they can make their own choices about their fertility in an adult way.
At the Commonwealth Institute on 27 June, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State observed presciently thatwomen are the transformers of poverty".Yet 70 per cent. of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty on the planet are female. It is a tragedy for them as well as a huge drag on the progress of mankind and the progress of womankind. I wish my right hon. Friend well in her mission to empower women so that they can revolutionise the world. That, I am sure, will be the most important revolution that we are likely to see in the next century.
§ Barbara Follett (Stevenage)
Development and development issues have played a central role in my life and in the lives of many of my constituents. I am therefore delighted that the Secretary of State is taking those issues so seriously. I especially welcome her remarks on the role 194 of women in development. Her commitment to the education of women and girls in developing countries will be a key factor in the fight against poverty. Women are pivotal in that fight because they are mainly responsible for the rearing and nurturing of future generations. Their education—or lack of it—is crucial to their children's mental and physical well-being.
Numerous studies have shown that a mother's education has a positive effect not only on her children's schooling but on their health. The studies also show that educated women tend to have fewer children than uneducated women. The beneficial effects of educating women are proven, which makes even more alarming the fact that 600 million of the world's 900 million illiterate adults are female. The problem is not confined to adults. Nearly two thirds of the 143 million children who are currently unable to attend primary school in the developing world are female. Unless we do something about educating them soon, we shall not reduce poverty—let alone eradicate it—for generations to come.
Education is only one weapon among many, but it is one of the most important. Without it, no amount of aid or trade can make a lasting difference. That fact was forcefully brought home to me 25 years ago in South Africa. I was working in a hospital in one of the barren and deserted homelands to which the old and very young women were exiled. I was a wet-behind-the-ears health worker, employed by a large charity dedicated to combating malnutrition. A woman in her late 60s came to see me because, she said, the milk that the charity had provided had killed her grandson. She took me to see his body. Her grief was terrible and dignified. It took me a while to piece together her story, but it came down to the fact that she could not read the instructions on the packet of milk and had unwittingly and lovingly starved him to death. I have never forgotten that little boy's death, although it was one among thousands and one among the hundreds that I personally witnessed in those years in South Africa.
At that time, the infant mortality rate for black children in rural areas was more than 50 per cent. In other words, half of the children born died before their first birthday. That was at a time when the South African Government were throwing millions of gallons of milk into the sea at Table bay every day to keep the price up. Half a pint of that milk each every day would have saved most of those children's lives.
That elderly, illiterate woman taught me a lesson, and I learned much more in the next few years about the appalling cluster of social, economic and political problems that caused the deaths of those thousands of children. I learned that young mothers breastfed for only a few weeks because they had to go back to the towns where the work was. I learned how difficult it was for the babies' grandmothers to find the money to buy feeding bottles. I learned how incredibly difficult it was for them to pay for the formula and how they watered it down to make it last longer. I learned about their back-breaking work scouring the countryside for wood to warm the water and, finally, how impossible it was to find clean water. If the women found water, it often needed boiling and without the wood to do so it was impossible to produce clean formula. That is how the infant mortality rate came to be more than 50 per cent.
195 The lives of those elderly women were appalling, but their courage was heroic. The iniquitous system of apartheid, which was at the root of those women's problems, has now been swept away, but the problems that apartheid created remain in Africa—and there are similar problems in the rest of the world. It is estimated that in rural Africa children and women spend up to 40 billion hours each year fetching and carrying water, and another few billion hours fetching and carrying fuel. It is not surprising that millions of children die each year from water-related diseases.
For those reasons I—and the people of Stevenage, which is twinned with a town called Kadoma in Zimbabwe—welcome the £120 million that the British Government have set aside for basic health services, primary education and the provision of clean water in sub-Saharan Africa.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will ensure that women and children are at the heart of Britain's development strategy. Our international development programme will be greatly strengthened by her presence. She is a woman who does what she says, whereas I am afraid that, despite the assurances of Opposition Members, for the past 18 years Britain's development programme has been mainly a matter of talking rather then doing. Deeds, not words, are needed now, and I know that my right hon. Friend will not let us down.
§ Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)
I shall make a very short contribution to an interesting debate, from which I am sure we have all learnt a lot. I could repeat many of the points that have been made—for instance, about the need for women and children to be at the centre of our development policies, and about the need for debt rescheduling and control of the arms trade.
There is one particular item to which I want to draw attention, however, because it must form an important part of the White Paper. That is the need for development education in our schools. It is an especially important subject, and if schools were to take it on board and if they were supported in so doing, it would help us to develop the sort of anti-racist attitudes and proactive approach to development that we want to see and would also help us to deal with many of the issues that face us.
Some development education takes place in schools already. As we know, however, schools are under great pressure and development education is one of the subjects that it is difficult for teachers to persuade pupils to take as seriously as they may take other subjects. Listening to the debate, we realise that the subject is one of the most important that children could learn about. Yet often, faced with competition from lessons such as mathematics, English, French and science, such important issues, discussions and aspects of education are squeezed out.
I urge the Minister to put development education into the White Paper as a priority. Schools should not simply be left to float in that respect, but should be supported in the delivery of the subject, because it will help us to encourage the sort of attitudes that we want to see in the young people of the future.
§ Mr. David Faber (Westbury)
As I am about to make a maiden speech of my own, of sorts, I add my warm congratulations to the three hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) spoke warmly about Jim Lester—and rightly so, for Jim campaigned tirelessly in the House both on the aid budget and on many other issues. The hon. Gentleman spoke thoughtfully and with great poise, and I am sure that we shall hear a lot more of him in the months and years to come.
I echo the congratulations already offered to the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King). She spoke passionately, she held the House, and at the same time she amused us all. Again, I am sure that we shall hear a lot more from her. Finally, I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Ms Russell). Gyles Brandreth, who is one of my closest friends, was one of my best friends in the House, so I am grateful for the warm words that the hon. Lady spoke about him. Her style, I am sure she will forgive me for saying, is somewhat different from his. He managed in the end to do away with the image of the woolly sweaters, but anyone who heard his speech seconding the Gracious Address last year would know that he is a hard act to follow. We look forward to hearing more from all three hon. Members in due course.
I echo the warm and fitting tributes paid by several hon. Members to my noble Friend Baroness Chalker, and especially that of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell), who had first-hand experience of seeing her at work in the field. For 11 years, Lynda Chalker was Minister for Overseas Development; she worked tirelessly to alleviate poverty and promote good government throughout the world, and I was privileged to work as her parliamentary private secretary for more than a year and to witness at first hand the respect that she inspired in officials, charity workers and Ministers from other countries.
I hope that the Government will continue to support the clear principles that my noble Friend established in office: more trade, better government and less debt. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad) would strongly endorse my views.
I have sat through most debates on overseas aid during the five years that I have spent in the House, and tonight's debate has been no exception to the rule: it has been truly excellent, and has shown that on this issue there can be clear areas of agreement between the Government and the Opposition.
I am only sorry that once or twice Labour Members have shown a trace of the arrogance that we have come to expect from new Labour from time to time. All too readily, they have attacked the previous Government's record in the most party political way possible, yet whenever Opposition Members have tried to raise issues of genuine disagreement they have been accused of party politicking. The subject should be above party politics and I hope that we can ensure that that happens in future debates.
I warmly congratulate the Secretary of State and the Minister on their appointments. Our loss on the third floor in Millbank is undoubtedly the new Department's gain. Others have spoken of the passion that the Secretary of State brings to the job; from my time with Lady Chalker, 197 I understand her description of her task as a noble one, and I am sure that the right hon. Lady will see it through with dedication.
I hope that the right hon. Lady will listen to hon. Members of all parties. In a written answer to a parliamentary question she said that, in today's debate, hon. Members wouldhave an opportunity to feed their thoughts and ideas into the Paper."—[Official Report, 24 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 464.]I hope that, on reflection, she will reconsider her expression of irritation at a perfectly valid intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), albeit one with which she disagreed. I hope that there is room for all hon. Members to express a view.
§ Clare Short
I am open to any views and I respect people who disagree with me, but it was clear from his intervention that the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) had not listened to my speech, and that was irritating. He was telling me that I had not said things that were clearly there and on the record.
§ Mr. Faber
I thank the Secretary of State. We will leave the matter there.
In a typically informed speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) made a passionate defence of free trade; it is the surest way to help the poorest countries to develop and prosper. Trade brings in three times more money than aid alone and it is therefore essential that the United Kingdom continues to play a leading role in international efforts to bring down trade barriers.
There is no doubt that, in recent decades, tariffs have decreased and trade has increased accordingly, bringing prosperity to many developing countries; but other forms of protectionism have increased, even in supposed free trade zones such as the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement area. If we are genuinely to help less well-off countries to develop, we must continue vigorously to resist protectionist moves by other Governments to shield their national industries from foreign competition. I hope that the Minister will confirm that it is the Government's intention to achieve free trade by 2020.
There is a moral argument for being involved in the international development effort, but it also serves our own interests. The quality of that aid is as important as the quantity. Aid given to the wrong regimes can simply be a way of transferring money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries. It should therefore be focused on countries with a genuine commitment to democracy and to market economics; indeed, the two are closely linked.
The prospects for economic reform and for development more generally will always be poor if Governments do not meet basic standards of popular consent, accountability and competence. I hope that the Minister will confirm that we need to create an enabling climate that promotes a partnership between the Governments of the donor countries and those of the developing countries that they are seeking to help.
The importance of the voluntary sector has been stressed this evening. Non-governmental organisations can often deliver aid more effectively, efficiently and imaginatively than Government institutions. They give 198 the taxpayer good value for money and are less likely to use the resources given to them for other purposes. We have heard tributes to many such organisations today, and I should like to mention one to which the Under-Secretary drew attention last week—the Grameen bank in Bangladesh, which specialises in providing small loans to women. As he pointed out last week, the loans are, by and large, repaid. The work of the bank, and other similar organisations, is invaluable. I know a great deal about it from the strong support given to such organisations by local aid groups in my constituency.
Many of the people who run such organisations are volunteers and have a high level of commitment and excellent local knowledge, as my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) described. I hope that the Government will give them the help and support they deserve.
We have heard a lot from Labour Members about the record of the previous Government on overseas aid. Let us be clear—I believe that we have a record of which we can be rightly and justifiably proud. Britain gives generously to support overseas development. In 1996–97, we were the sixth largest donor in the world, with an overseas aid budget of £2.2 billion. The United Kingdom spent 0.27 per cent. of its gross domestic product on Government aid, above the average of 0.25 per cent. for aid-giving countries. When that is added to private sector money, the United Kingdom's record is even more impressive—1.38 per cent. of gross national product. We spend more as a percentage of GDP on private and public development aid than any country bar the Netherlands. What is more, the quality of aid is universally reckoned to be high, as has been recognised by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reports.
Labour Members have made much of their party's commitment to meeting the target set by the UN that developed countries should spend 0.7 per cent. of GDP on overseas aid. Can the Under-Secretary tell us the timetable that the Government have set for that? In a debate last year in which I took part, Labour motion's pledged to make "steady and sustainable progress" towards that target, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Sir R. Whitney) said, that commitment seems to have vanished. As recently as 1992, Labour's election manifesto pledged to achieve the target within five years. Why are the Government now refusing to set a timetable?
It has been argued by one or two hon. Members that debt owed by third-world countries should be written off. We believe such a policy to be misguided. It would not encourage those countries to adopt sensible or sustainable economic policies or convince them of the need to push through market reforms. It would send the wrong message to a number of countries with abysmal human rights records, and could cost the taxpayer millions of pounds. It is for those reasons that we do not support the Jubilee 2000 initiative—well intentioned though it is.
The solution to the problem of third-world debt is twofold. First, we need international action to help countries service and reduce their debt. In office, we cancelled £1 billion of debt owed by the poorest countries. That was the single biggest contribution to resolving the debt crisis. In December last year, 199 Britain pledged up to £250 million to help some of Africa's poorest and most indebted countries. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) put this issue at the top of the international agenda when he set out the Trinidad terms in 1990—as the Secretary of State generously acknowledged.
Secondly, we need action by the countries themselves to ensure that they live within their means. That is why we have devoted great energy to improving the quality of public spending programmes in poor countries. Over time, that will raise the quality of services provided by those countries to poorer people.
My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) spoke of the need for fiscal rectitude—low taxation, low inflation and tightly controlled Government spending—to create the right conditions for economic growth. These are the policies that the IMF has done much to promote and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury said, the Secretary of State has been quick to attack. The policies have brought prosperity to the developed world and will bring prosperity to the developing world.
The Government have made much of their review of the Department of International Development, but it is difficult to see what will be reviewed, given the fact that—as we have heard from several hon. Members this evening—such a review was carried out three years ago. Where will the review of defence spending leave our emergency aid operations? Britain's armed forces have contributed to disaster relief operations around the world. They have saved thousands of lives. I can do no better than to add nothing to the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). As he reminded us, at this very moment HMS Liverpool is helping to deal with the problems in Montserrat.
Yesterday, I asked the Minister whether he would give a commitment that the Government will maintain the West Indies guard ship after the defence review. Can he at least pledge today to make forceful representations on that to the Secretary of State for Defence and the Chancellor of the Exchequer? My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), who speaks with great knowledge and experience of the matter, described the aid that we have given in the past. I hope that the aid that the previous Government gave to Montserrat will be adequately recognised, as we recognise the aid that the present Government are giving. We will continue to support the Government in bringing relief to that stricken island.
We have heard a good deal about the Government rejoining UNESCO, at a cost of £5 million this year, rising to some £12 million or £15 million in three years. The previous Government left UNESCO because it was becoming increasingly politicised and its spending was spiralling out of control. I accept that there have been improvements since then, but I echo the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh). UNESCO's finances are still in disarray; it overspends by $80 million a year. What guarantees have the Government asked for and received from UNESCO that the extra money provided by British taxpayers will be spent on worthwhile projects rather than administrative costs?
200 In the past few weeks, we have heard quite a bit from Labour about its new moral foreign policy. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) described human rights as a central plank of Government policy. It is not the first time we have heard moral mission statements from Labour Members, or from the Secretary of State. To give her credit, she has always taken a consistent moral line, although some of us have not always agreed with it. However, the Foreign Secretary's mission statement sits a little uneasily with some of her past causes. She has in the past espoused the cause of North Korea and given her support to communist Cuba. I believe that she has even signed an early-day motion calling for the complete rehabilitation of Leon Trotsky. That would be a difficult task, even for the NHS under new Labour. She is in good company.
§ Clare Short
I am astonished at the hon. Gentleman. There are many things that are true about which he might attack me, but not those that he mentioned, although I accept that we should get developments in Cuba. I have never been a Trotskyist.
§ Mr. Faber
I will send the right hon. Lady a copy of the early-day motion. She is in good company because, on the great moral issue of the past 40 years—standing up to communism in eastern Europe, the cause of so much desperate deprivation in our continent—Labour Members have been wrong all too often. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain exactly how the Government's new approach will affect our relations with other countries.
Will countries with poor human rights records be blacklisted? How would such a list be decided? Which countries does the Minister have in mind? Will British companies and aid organisations be banned from those countries? How precisely do the Government intend to define the human rights violations that would lead to trade sanctions, and perhaps more important, to withdrawal of aid?
We have made it clear that, when the Government act in the national interest, we will support them. I believe that British overseas aid has been efficiently managed over the years. Our aid operation is widely respected around the world, not least because of the efforts of my noble Friend Baroness Chalker in her 11 years as the Minister responsible for such matters. I hope that the Government continue to pursue the policies that we put in place, and support projects that promote sound political and economic policies, provide improved health and family planning services and encourage sustainable economic development. If they do, I assure them that they will have our continued support.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes)
This has been an excellent and well-informed debate. It is unique because it is the first full-day debate on international development in Government time in living memory. I sincerely congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) on his witty, thoughtful speech and on his generous tribute to Sir James Lester, with which I concur. I congratulate my hon. Friend 201 the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) on her eloquent and well-informed contribution, and on already having become honorary secretary of the all-party group on international development. Lastly, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Ms Russell) on her warm and constructive speech. Taken together, the three speeches are testimony to the quality of the new talent on the Government Benches.
The debate has illustrated well the real concern of the House about international development, which it has often not been able to express. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, the debate has provided hon. Members with a unique opportunity to contribute to the White Paper at this early stage. Normally, as I can tell my new hon. Friends, debates such as this follow the publication of a White Paper, as the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) rightly said. We felt it not only right but essential, when we were asking academics, non-governmental organisations, ambassadors and high commissioners to contribute their thoughts, to give hon. Members the opportunity to contribute.
Some Tory Members, especially those who spoke from the Front Bench, seemed to think that there was something wrong with having a review. I must say it was nice to get the support of the hon. Members for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) and for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who perhaps know a little more about the subject. The fact that they supported the review shows that the Opposition are already divided—something that we shall of course do our best to encourage. Surely a White Paper is essential for a new Government coming into office after 18 years, to chart the direction in which we are moving. I thank all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. If those who have not been able to participate, for whatever reason, submit their views in writing, all of them will be taken into account when we draft the White Paper, which we expect to publish in the autumn.
Meanwhile, I shall respond to some of the more immediate and urgent points raised in the debate and draw some of the threads together. Several hon. Members raised the debt problem. That is understandable. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) rightly said that debt reduced the opportunities for developing countries. It cripples many developing countries, especially in Africa. My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant), in a constructive and eloquent speech, called for Her Majesty's Government to take a lead.
We accept that the debt burden borne by developing countries is a matter of concern not just in the House but among the public. That is why my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for International Development have been pressing the international community to provide further debt relief. We welcome the support that the G7 leaders gave to the initiative at the Denver summit. We have also called on the International Monetary Fund, the World bank and the Paris Club to play their part. We shall take every opportunity to argue our case at the meetings of those organisations.
I can tell the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Faber) that we do not believe that we should grant debt relief without a commitment by debtors to create the right environment for sustainable economic growth. If relief is not to be wasted, our aim must be to ensure that it encourages economic development and leads to lasting 202 poverty reduction. As several hon. Members have said, poverty can be the cause of conflict rather than the effect of it.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.
Several hon. Members mentioned the role of the World bank. We welcome the way in which its image has improved, especially in the past year. The Government welcome the bank's intention to do more to develop poverty-targeted lending. We are encouraging it to improve its poverty assessment as a key instrument in identifying poverty. Like the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford, we welcome Mr. James Wolfensohn's personal commitment not only to reduce poverty but to combat corruption, which reduces economic growth and deters investment. We await with interest the bank's action plan of measures to ensure that its own operations are free of corruption.
The hon. Member for Banbury and others raised the subject of aid and trade provision. There are different views about the achievements of ATP over the years, but I am clear that the aid programme should not be about the promotion of commercial objectives. Under the departmental spending review we shall therefore be looking closely at the subject of ATP, at our policies on tying and on how we can establish a better partnership with the private sector.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham raised the issue of the tying of aid programmes. Conservative Members picked on something that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in New York which was not properly reported. We believe that tied aid programmes can impose additional costs on recipients and donors by restricting competition and choice. I am sure that untying is in all our long-term interests. I support the efforts of the OECD in this area; we feel that the time is right to make progress towards multilateral untying. My right hon. Friend actually announced that the United Kingdom is untying the remaining 25 per cent. of our contribution to the special programme of assistance for Africa that is currently tied—some 75 per cent. of our contribution was already untied. We are currently looking more generally at untying aid as part of our overall review.
A number of hon. Members mentioned the excellent work being done by HMS Liverpool, the West Indies guard ship in Montserrat. As well as helping with the search-and-rescue operation, the crew have been assisting in the repair of generators, constructing building shells at Brads and solving plumbing problems at some of the shelters. The crew have been providing good assistance at the current emergency on Montserrat. I can assure the right hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad) and the hon. Members for Westbury and for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames)—the latter apologised for not being able to be here for my reply—that our Department will be making a contribution to the Ministry of Defence defence review. We shall include the value of our troops and ships, both in peace-keeping as well as in disaster relief.
The hon. Member for Banbury and other hon. Members raised the subject of Montserrat and I thank the hon. Member for Banbury for his helpful comments. 203 At meetings held today, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State approved urgent assistance to Montserrat. We have made progress towards considering immediate and long-term options to discuss with the elected Government of Montserrat to ensure that the island remains as far as possible a viable and positive entity.
A number of hon. Members, including, I think the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex, mentioned co-operation between the military and our Department's staff in Bosnia. I am grateful to him for praising our project partnership with British forces in western Bosnia. It is very productive and it places emphasis on helping ordinary communities—a feature that characterises all our work in Bosnia. I shall say now—the hon. Gentleman can read my remarks in the Official Report at his leisure tomorrow—that I have already had brief discussions with my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces and the remarks of the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex have encouraged me to have further discussions with my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I was in Bosnia with one of the Scottish regiments at Whit. They need a good deal more resources if they are to do the job as effectively as they would wish.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I shall take account of my hon. Friend's comments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) raised the subject of Indonesia. I congratulate her on her diligence in pursuing Indonesian issues tirelessly both inside and outside the House. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in reply to a question in the House, we are currently reviewing both the level and focus of our development co-operation with Indonesia, as elsewhere. The issues of poverty and human rights will be central factors in shaping our future development relationship with that country. I hope that my comments will have reassured my hon. Friend.
The right hon. Member for Eddisbury, the hon. Member for Westbury and others mentioned the important role of non-governmental organisations. I bow to no one in my admiration for NGOs. I used to work for one, albeit not in this area, and I think that charities and voluntary organisations do a great deal of good. They have become major players in international development, with important roles both as aid deliverers overseas and, here in the United Kingdom, as advocates for development, which is most helpful from our point of view. We recognise them as important partners in development, whose work is complementary to that of our Department and whose experience can contribute to the design and delivery of our own programmes. We are strongly supportive of the role of organisations such as Population Concern, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), who has an intimate knowledge of the issue.
Something that astonishes me after 18 years in this House—like you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—is that I am still surprised by the bare-faced cheek of the Tories. They presided over a halving of development aid, yet, after eight weeks, they come along and ask why Labour does 204 not immediately set a timetable for increasing our bilateral aid. During the election, we made it clear that we are committed to working within the existing budget ceiling for the first two years, with the aim of then obtaining extra resources in the third year of the Labour Government.
§ Mr. Foulkes
Because the quality of aid is just as important as the quantity and we want to get that right. We want to make sure that aid is spent according to Labour priorities—our priorities—to help the poorest of the poor. We want to ensure that money is switched away from the sort of projects that the Conservatives supported and the National Audit Office criticised—projects such as the state propaganda radio station in Indonesia and the Pergau dam—to small-scale projects in sectors such as education, health and clean water. Only after that has been achieved can we go with confidence to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and ask for more money.
I remind Conservative Members that, when Labour left office in 1979, the aid budget stood at 0.51 per cent. of gross national product and rising; but when we took over from the discredited Conservative Government, it was 0.27 per cent. of GNP and falling. Let us hear no more lectures from Conservative Members.
Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Richmond Park and—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Foulkes
Thank you. Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not actually too bothered by them, but I am grateful to you.
I shall add to what I said about UNESCO in an intervention, because some people did not seem to hear what was being said. Like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I am becoming frustrated by people not listening—[interruption.]—and I, too, find the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) very irritating. The cost this year of rejoining UNESCO is only £5 million and, as I told the hon. Member for Richmond Park, it will be met from the contingency reserve. More important, UNESCO has agreed to target our priority of primary education—especially for girls—so that that money will be spent in the most developmentally sound way possible. We had already anticipated points raised by Opposition Members.
I cannot address all the points raised during the debate, but we shall take account of all of them during production of our White Paper. However, I shall make a few remarks on the Commonwealth, a matter that was raised by the right hon. Member for Eddisbury. The Government attach the highest priority to the Commonwealth, its role and its principles. I am glad to say that the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting will be held in Edinburgh—the city in which I received much of my education, or at least in which I was taught. The meeting will be held in October and will provide a timely opportunity for us to take a lead on a diverse range of important Commonwealth activities.
The main theme of the Edinburgh meeting will be "Trade, Investment and Development: the Road to Commonwealth Prosperity" and our discussion on that key subject will provide an opportunity to demonstrate that the Commonwealth can and does make a difference.
205 As I said at the beginning, this has been the most comprehensive and constructive debate about international development that we have had for a long time. I believe that it was so helpful because it followed the great boost given to the subject by our stunning victory on 1 May. That victory gave new hope to the people of the developing world, just as it gave new hope to the people of Britain. One of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's first actions was to fulfil our manifesto pledge to put international development at the heart of government, and to appoint a Cabinet Minister to be responsible for it. For all the tributes that have been paid to Lady Chalker—I, too, pay tribute to her—the last Government never put her in the Cabinet.
Not only is the subject important in itself; we now have a Select Committee—
It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.