HC Deb 06 March 2001 vol 364 cc158-246

Order for Second Reading read.

3.51 pm
The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The purpose of the Bill is to establish in legislation the reduction of poverty as the aim of United Kingdom development assistance and to ensure that it is spent for that reason alone. The House will be aware that over the past four years, we have established the reduction of poverty as the guiding principle of all our efforts. I am pleased that the change has been widely supported in the House and the country, and by the International Development Select Committee, which is chaired so ably by the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells).

Existing legislation allows the Secretary of State to do virtually whatever that person may wish. Without change, a future Minister or Administration could reinstate the use of the aid budget to soften the terms of commercial contracts through mixed credits, as under the old aid-and-trade provision. An Administration could re-tie aid, thus distorting its use and decreasing its efficiency, as under the previous Government, or use that aid budget to serve the short-term political or commercial purposes of the UK. We believe that it is much better to clarify the purpose of our country's development efforts to ensure that our legislative power means that our funds and efforts are devoted single-mindedly to the systematic reduction of world poverty.

The House will know that the Government have led the international effort to place the systematic reduction of poverty and the meeting of the international development targets at the core of the international development effort. We have not simply refocused our bilateral programme on the reduction of poverty; we are using our influence throughout the international development system to get a commitment to reduce poverty systematically in every poor country across the globe.

We have had remarkable success in that effort. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United Nations development agencies, the UN millennium assembly, which met recently, the African Development bank, the Asian Development bank, the European Union and the Cotonou agreement, the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the G7 have all firmly lined up to make the international development targets the objective of the international development effort.

We believe that that is very important. The biggest and best UK programme cannot alone ensure that the international development targets are met across the world. However, an international development system dedicated to that objective can do so. As hon. Members will know, the world is on track to meet the first of those targets—halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty between 1990 and 2015, enabling a billion people to make the journey out of extreme poverty. That is a considerable achievement, but we need to go on, as the world population will grow. The Bill's purpose is to underpin the improvement in the quality of international development efforts and the contributions that we make both through our own bilateral programme and through multilateral development agencies.

The second major objective that the United Kingdom Government have pursued in their development efforts is achieving a shift in the way in which international development assistance is applied. Far too often in the past, it was applied through a massive fragmentation of well intentioned charitable projects in developing countries, which led to a weakening, rather than a strengthening, of the capacity of developing country Governments to improve their economic performance and the delivery of health care and education services to their people. Such services improve people's prospects of bettering their life opportunities and climbing out of the condition of extreme poverty.

For that reason, we have tried to redirect the whole international effort by supporting poverty reduction strategies laid down by Governments of developing countries, which have been openly consulted on with their people and which combine macro-economic policy and social policy objectives to make sure that resources from revenue, debt relief and aid funds can all be directed through Government institutions to make a much stronger effort to improve services and economic management. Again, that requires international development efforts to have as their objective the systematic reduction of poverty, which is leading to a massive improvement in the capacity of the international system.

World Bank research shows that if aid is focused where the poor are and where the national Governments are committed to reform, the effectiveness of the US $50 billion or so in the international development system is increased by 50 per cent. The United Kingdom Government have worked hard on than objective, and the Bill requires that a much more effective international development system focused on the systematic reduction of poverty be the objective of the Secretary of State, unless that person introduces alternative legislation in the House of Commons.

All of that is of profound importance to the poor and the future stability and safety of the world; it was the basis on which the House approved the reversal in the decline of the development budget under the previous Administration. There has been an increase in the contribution of 0.26 per cent. of gross national product that we inherited from that Government to 0.33 per cent., to which we are committed. I hope that growth continues, so that we get our country's aid budget to the United Nations target of the 0.7 per cent. of GNP. As the House has increased the budget on the basis that those resources would be spent on poverty reduction, not on ulterior objectives, it is right that the legislation underpinning the spending of that money should entrench the requirement that any Minister or Administration use those funds to achieve the systematic reduction of poverty.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon)

The Secretary of State went straight from the 1997 position to looking at least two years ahead to the figure of 0.33 per cent. What percentage of gross national product did the Government spend on aid at the end of the last financial period, three years into a Labour Administration?

Clare Short

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has noticed, as he is busy writing press releases and does not usually read much published by my Department, but we will achieve 0.29 per cent. this year, as we said we would.

In our 1997 White Paper, we committed ourselves to considering the case for new legislation. The overriding response to our consultation, which took place in two rounds of policy forums across the country, was that there is popular support for a change of legislation to entrench the objective of reducing poverty.

The current legislation on the statute book is the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980, which is a consolidating Act drawing its provisions from 33 previous statutes. Much of the Act is outdated or obsolete, and we need new legislation to update it, to entrench the poverty reduction objective, and to take new powers to support civil society and to provide financial guarantees and hold securities when we try to develop the private sector in developing countries, in order to enable those countries to grow their economies and thus to reduce poverty.

The House should note that the courts found in the Pergau dam judgment, which shamed our country so deeply, that the powers in the existing legislation were so widely drawn that they caused the Minister to mislead himself into believing that he could use aid to back economically unsound projects. We would all agree that it is desirable to protect any future Minister of any conceivable alternative Government from making such a mistake.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. Given that the Government indicated by a written answer on 10 April last year that they intended "as soon as possible" to bring forward legislation to enforce the OECD convention on bribery, and on the assumption that the right hon. Lady did not judge the Bill to be the appropriate vehicle for achieving that objective, can she tell the House when she intends to act on that important subject?

Clare Short

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the subject is enormously important, but it is not the responsibility of my Department to introduce such legislation. The Bill would be rather longer than it is, and legislation has not been prepared, although the Government have made a commitment in principle to enact stronger legislation. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman when it will be introduced, as it is not in my remit, but I share his view that that should be done as urgently as possible.

I should draw to the attention of the House two exceptions to the overriding requirement set out in the Bill that poverty reduction must be the purpose of spending on international development assistance. The first exception relates to assistance given to the overseas territories. The Government recognise the responsibility that the UK has for the overseas territories beyond a commitment to help them reduce poverty, although any assistance that we provide would include that objective. The requirement that assistance to the overseas territories must be likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty is therefore set aside and replaced with a requirement that our assistance to those territories must be provided for the purpose of furthering sustainable development or improving the welfare of their population.

The second exception relates to assistance provided in response to disasters or emergencies. Obviously, such assistance will not be likely to contribute to a reduction of poverty in all cases. For example, the terrible earthquake in Gujarat, which we all agree was of overwhelming concern, affecting as it did such large numbers of people, occurred in an area that was not the poorest part of India. If the requirement to provide humanitarian assistance always had to serve the poverty reduction objective, it would restrict our ability to move rapidly across the world when people are in trouble, and maintain the UK's record for speed and flexibility, of which hon. Members in all parts of the House are proud. Exceptions should be made in those two cases.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. Would she consider it appropriate to consider in this context the aid that we might give in Sierra Leone? As the right hon. Lady is well aware, we are giving a great deal of military aid to Sierra Leone, where there is an amputee camp which her hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) and I visited recently. More than 200 victims of the Revolutionary United Front rebels had their hands chopped off—in one case, a little girl aged only 13 months. We were shocked to see people trying to manufacture artificial limbs unaided by any skilled help or, apparently, any outside help. In that context, will she consider providing aid for the victims of war in especially deserving cases?

Clare Short

Yes; indeed, we already provide such aid. I have visited the camp about which the hon. Gentleman speaks, which was a deeply moving and distressing place. The Government are absolutely committed to the current effort in Sierra Leone to retake 50 per cent. of the territory that is held by the Revolutionary United Front, a criminal gang that is interested mostly in diamonds and which seeks to use the power of terror instead of fighting. That is why it uses amputation, and it should be defeated. We have provided help to the amputees in the past and we will continue to support such objectives. As a country, we are the biggest supporter of the part of Sierra Leone that is controlled by the Government. We provide about £35 million of support a year and we will see it through until all of Sierra Leone is in Government hands. Thus, people who have suffered amputation can at least look forward to peace and a decent life in future.

The House should understand clearly that the overriding objective of poverty reduction does not mean that development efforts are restricted to the provision of social assistance or charitable handouts. Our second White Paper, "Making Globalisation Work for the Poor", makes clear the conditions that are needed to reduce poverty in developing countries: economic growth that benefits all people, not merely a small number, and the provision of quality education and health care for all. To achieve those conditions, Governments need all the capacity of an effective modern state. They need the capacity to manage their public finances well, to raise revenues properly and fairly, and to provide regulatory systems for their banking sectors so that they can keep their savings at home and attract inward investment. It is one of the tragedies of Africa that 40 per cent. of the continent's savings leave the continent because the banking system is so deficient.

Work on security sector reform, which is relevant to the issue raised by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), is also needed. Over-large armed forces that are not transparently funded or properly accountable to a democratic power are often a cause of coups and instability. Work to ensure that the security sector is properly accountable and properly and transparently funded is part of developing an effective modern state that can give people the stability and security that they need to grow their economy and reduce poverty.

We also provide support to health and education Ministries. Such aid seeks to ensure that a quality basic primary education system is in place for all the children of a country rather than only those who attend city schools that serve better-off people. Similarly, the presence of primary health care systems throughout a country is important, and health Ministries should be capable of maintaining and sustaining such services.

When we say that poverty reduction is our main objective, it should be borne in mind that that means helping countries to create modern and efficient states that will enable their economies to grow and ensure that good quality services can be provided to all their people. We are speaking about an effective state and a well organised and well regulated private sector that can grow, attract inward investment and thus reduce poverty.

The test of any of the work that we currently undertake is whether its purpose is the reduction of poverty. Such work can also be done for other reasons, but the Bill requires its purpose to be the reduction of poverty. It will not allow priority to be given to the commercial or political interests of the UK. Under the previous arrangements, the Overseas Development Administration of the previous Government had a sort of semi-autonomy, but was accountable to the House through the Foreign Secretary. The UK's development effort was always subject to considerations involving its commercial and political interests. Every country has legitimate interests of that sort, but development is a different business. It takes more than short-term considerations to help some of the poorest countries to establish arrangements to enable them to grow their economies and provide better services for their people. Such considerations, which were allowed and encouraged under previous arrangements, are not permitted by the Bill, and I hope that the House agrees that that is desirable.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)

The Secretary of State raises an interesting point about the way in which the House will call the Department to account. The Bill's objective is to reduce poverty. If it is clear that matters have not improved, but deteriorated after a long period of involvement with a country, will that be a reason for withdrawing from it? If not, how can the House call the Department to account?

Clare Short

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Select Committee for International Development discussed that matter recently. The Department publishes strong output objectives that contribute to fulfilling international development targets. They include economic growth, getting more children into school and providing better health care services. Of course, ascertaining the extent to which the United Kingdom's contribution drives the objectives forward requires refining the method of evaluating the effort. However, our published objectives tie us down to evaluating our achievements against them. The House can therefore effectively call us to account through the Select Committee and by comparing our performance with the published objectives.

A country could do everything in its power to achieve the objectives, and there could be a military uprising, such as that in Sierra Leone, or a natural disaster. None of us wants to turn away from a country in trouble, which might have slipped backwards through no fault of its own.

There is another problem: how can we support people who live under bad Governments? They are often the poorest and most oppressed people in the world. Clearly, we cannot support their Governments but neither can we turn away from those people. We must find methods of providing humanitarian, and, if possible, additional aid to enable some of the poorest people in the world to demand better Governments and thus a better future.

Such matters are complex, but we are open in publishing our objectives and our methods of measuring our success. We are much more transparent about that than previous Governments. That enables us to have intelligent and detailed discussions in the Select Committee and to be properly accountable to it. I hope that Select Committee members agree that that has helped us to improve the quality of UK overseas development assistance.

Mr. Desmond Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

We cannot turn away from people who live under bad Governments, neither can we abandon people who live in areas of conflict. Millions of people are denied access to humanitarian or development assistance because they live in countries that are ravaged by conflict. How will the Bill and the Government's policy make Departments work together to tackle the resolution or prevention of such conflict?

Clare Short

My hon. Friend is right. Twenty per cent. of the population of sub-Saharan Africa live under conditions of conflict. Post cold war, most conflict breaks out within rather than between the poorest countries in the world. In some countries, one group tries to take all and thus divides the people, and in some weak states, such as Sierra Leone, which are rich in natural resources, groups try to plunder them.

The Bill makes clear our duty to provide humanitarian assistance to all who are in need, wherever they are. That provision is not governed by the requirement to reduce poverty. We must simply respond to people's need. We and the international system do all in our power to provide humanitarian relief to all those who are affected by conflict. However, in, for example, Burundi, which my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) visited, the circumstances are too dangerous for United Nations and non-governmental organisation workers. People in such countries are in desperate need, but do not receive help.

The answer for grossly impoverished places such as southern Sudan, where conflict has continued for such a long time and 1.5 million people have died, is not the endless provision of humanitarian relief but a greater effort to resolve conflict. We have established joint funding arrangements to achieve a more tightly collaborative effort between my Department, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence and thus use our influence to improve the capacity of the international system to resolve conflict.

Sierra Leone is the first big test, and we will succeed there. Sierra Leone has the largest UN peacekeeping operation, costing $500 million a year, although it is a small country of only 4.5 million people. The first problem that we had there was that many of the UN peacekeepers were taken hostage. Secondly, although there is supposedly a ceasefire agreement with the Revolutionary United Front, the UN forces have not moved forward.

We must all be determined to succeed in Sierra Leone, but we must learn from the arrangements there how international peacekeeping efforts can and must be improved. We are, of course, going on from Sierra Leone to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has not had good government since Leopold of the Belgians. I hope that it had it before him. That country is as big as western Europe, and the task for the international community of bringing peace to the DRC, which is crucial to the development of Africa, will require a greater strength, capacity and effectiveness than we have at the moment. The operation of the joint pool is meant to improve the UK effort in that regard.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

The Secretary of State mentioned southern Sudan, which I have visited. I am very concerned about the situation there. Does she think that when conflicts have gone on for decades, as they have in southern Sudan, we should concentrate a little more on development aid? We are very good at giving humanitarian aid to areas such as southern Sudan, but the provision of more educational facilities, for instance, would only need to be very simple and might lead to a more rapid resolution of the conflict.

Clare Short

I agree with the hon. Lady's aspirations, but I do not agree that that is the way forward. The crunch is that in such disorder, most of the people are displaced. Of course, when people are in refugee camps, we must try to ensure that the children are educated so that they are not under a life sentence but can look forward to a settled life in which they can improve their circumstances.

What Sudan needs is peace, desperately and overwhelmingly. I believe that if there were greater efforts and energy in the international system, there could be a prospect of a confederal solution for Sudan that would bring peace to that tortured country, where poverty is growing and people are suffering. If it were possible to enhance humanitarian aid in ways that enabled people to survive, we should do that, and we do. However, those who call simply for enhancement of humanitarian aid should realise that 90 per cent. of those resources are spent on aeroplanes and airlifts; very little of it gets through to the people, and it has been proved that the fighters take some of the resources. Therefore, more aid is not the answer. We have to do what we can to get help through, but peace is the answer in southern Sudan and we need a stronger international call for that.

Dr. Tonge

The Secretary of State has not visited southern Sudan. Does she not agree that the simple provision of primary education—and the training of the southern Sudanese people to give simple primary education—would require no school buildings or special equipment, and that if the people were displaced the education could go with them? Generations of children in southern Sudan have had nothing to do except wait for the next attack by the raiders from the north. It is very sad that we cannot provide such simple facilities for them.

Clare Short

I agree with the hon. Lady that the situation is very sad, but I do not agree that the answer is to try to provide spots of education or health care for people who are constantly being displaced, impoverished and threatened with violence and fighting. We should do what we can to keep them going, and to provide services to displaced people and refugees. The answer is a peace settlement, and, in my very strong view, not enough people in the international community are making an effort to achieve peace in Sudan. It worries me when people who are concerned about the situation there focus all their efforts on calling for more aid, because that will not provide the answer. The people there desperately need peace.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley)

Further to what my right hon. Friend was saying about countries with awful Governments—I can link this question a little to Sudan—and about encouraging people to press for a change of Government, I feel quite desperate about the situation of the women in Afghanistan. Can my right hon. Friend offer any small ray of hope on what we could do through aid to help the women of Afghanistan become something more than machines for bearing children, which is how the Taliban regard them?

Clare Short

I agree with my hon. Friend that the situation in Afghanistan is terrible and deeply worrying. As well those beautiful old Buddhist statues being destroyed, girls have been deliberately excluded from school and women from hospital. Women doctors are not allowed to work and provide health care. That is so backward and unbearable. The situation is deeply distressing and I cannot offer her the hope of immediate change, but we have worked hard to ensure that the United Nations system will not concede on the principle of equal provision for women and girls. If everybody stands together, there is a prospect that there will be no collusion with the undesirable ruling that the regime has made, and we shall hold on to that.

The UK has been disadvantaged in trying to help in Afghanistan because there was clear security information that UK nationals were probably under threat. However, we shall reconsider that policy. I can promise my hon. Friend that we shall do all in our power to ensure that women and girls receive education and basic health care, but I cannot tell her that we are optimistic about achieving major change in the short term.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Clare Short

I should get on, if the House will forgive me.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Clare Short


Mrs. Gillan

I am most grateful. May I take the Secretary of State back to the remarks that she made before so generously taking all those interventions? I am trying hard to understand exactly what will be ruled in and what will be ruled out by the new focus on poverty reduction. Can she explain whether it will exclude aid to projects such as using Customs and Excise to improve taxation systems, drugs monitoring, and systems in the overseas territories where aid has gone in the past? Will projects such as good governance, which she mentioned in relation to Africa, also be excluded? The focus on poverty appears to move us away from any focus on good governance.

Clare Short

I have already dealt with that point—the hon. Lady cannot have been listening. As we say in our globalisation White Paper, poverty reduction is maximised by an effective modern state creating the conditions for a private sector that is not allowed to be monopolistic or to abuse its powers, which happens behind high tariffs in some countries where nationally owned private sectors have high prices and shoddy goods. Another condition for an effective private sector that will grow the economy and attract inward investment is the provision by an effective modern state of regulatory arrangements that encourage good banking and good revenue systems.

We do such work all over the world and there is no question of our not continuing to do it. Countries need those arrangements. That is what good governance is, right across the board—not just action against corruption, important as that is, but effective systems that enable an economy to grow and to provide proper services for people. That has been the central focus of our efforts since we formed our Government and that work will continue.

The Bill includes new powers such as the provision that we can support work that improves development awareness and advocacy, both at home and overseas. I am concerned that there is a mindset that considers development to be not part of the mainstream of creating a more just world order and modern, effective government, which enable countries to grow their economies, but a residual that comes after politics and provides funds that are charitably distributed to those who are lacking. If we are to have any kind of safety and security, we need a UK public who understand the urgency of those efforts.

We also need to be able to support work in developing countries so that people there have sufficient knowledge and feel entitled to demand of their Government better governance and better use of public resources. That work, which we have strengthened since we formed our Government, will be funded under new powers, but such funding is currently committed under the annual Appropriations Act, and not the main legislation under which we operate.

The Bill also provides for the use of a wider range of commercial instruments—the taking of shares, loans, convertible loans, options and guarantees. Let me give a couple of examples of the way in which the powers will be used. We have done some work in this regard, but currently we must obtain permission from the Treasury as a one-off on each occasion.

I do not know whether hon. Members have come across the Day chocolate company, which produces Divine chocolate bars. It is a fair trade company, owned partly by a Ghanaian cocoa farmers co-operative and partly by some British non-governmental organisations. It is marketing the chocolate throughout the country on the basis that towns can become Divine towns. If hon. Members would like their constituencies to be Divine, they may wish to sign up. The aim of the initiative is to create a commercially viable enterprise that will improve the lives of Ghanaian cocoa farmers who have experienced a deterioration of their terms of trade and hence their income levels over the years.

Under our legislation, we have only the power to provide a grant, and grants are not always helpful to enterprises that need to be commercially viable. We therefore wanted to guarantee a loan from the National Westminster bank, which was not willing to make the loan without such a guarantee. The Day chocolate company and its trade in Divine chocolate bars now seem to be prospering. That is the kind of intervening that we want to be able to do, and under the Bill we shall no longer have to obtain one-off permission from the Treasury to enable countries to grow their economies and local people to improve the activity of the private sector.

My Department has been lobbied by a number of bodies seeking to embed certain policies in the draft Bill—for example, a commitment to children, to empowering women, to dealing with HIV-AIDS or to whatever their favoured objective might be. Let me make it clear that we will resist all such pressure. We agree that children are key to development, and that our task is to ensure that this generation of poor children have the chance of education and health care so that they do not become parents of even poorer children. We also agree that dealing with HIV-AIDS is a major international priority. The Department is giving ever growing commitments to such work, not just in Africa but in China, Bangladesh and India, where HIV-AIDS is also spreading and needs to be contained before it reaches the vast population of the rest of Asia. We agree, too, that poverty has a woman's face: 70 per cent. of the world's poor are women, and the poorest children come from women-headed households.

Nevertheless, we believe that any attempt to entrench such objectives in legislation will impair our adaptability and flexibility. The flexibility of our current arrangements makes the United Kingdom one of the most effective development organisations in the world. The needs of countries and regions vary; performance varies from country to country. We hold all those objectives dear, but we deploy our resources where they can make a difference to a country's need and what other development partners might do. Tying down proportions of our work or focusing on particular priorities in the Bill would create a rigidity that is illustrated by the United States development programme. Its legislation involves a lot of earmarking, which prevents it from responding flexibly in many of the countries in which it is working.

I strongly commend the Bill. Its purpose is simple, but profoundly important. One in five of the world's population—the 6 billion people who share this planet—still live in conditions of extreme poverty: the sort of conditions that our country experienced at the time of the industrial revolution. There is a lot of child labour, and many people cannot expect to live beyond their 40s. Many are illiterate, and many die of simple diseases such as diarrhoea and measles.

Given the world's levels of abundance and knowledge, it is a shame and a disgrace that the world still has such levels of poverty and inequality. It is a profoundly important moral issue. However, it is not only a moral issue. If the world continues with such division and those levels of inequality, we shall hand on to our children mounting instability and environmental degradation that will endanger their future, wherever they are.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I am very grateful to my good friend the Secretary of State. The legislation is a tremendous step forward, and I am very proud that our country is taking this action. Obviously, however, we cannot do it alone. It would be excellent news if we knew that other countries that are among the wealthiest in the world, and other bodies such as the European Union, were minded to set themselves similar policy objectives. Has my right hon. Friend anything to say on widening the participation by others in what we are trying to do in the United Kingdom?

Clare Short

I am sure that the whole House is very pleased to see my hon. Friend. We know that she has not been well, and it is delightful to have her in the Chamber today. I also honour the fact that, throughout her political life, she has worked on the issue of international development. It is lovely that she returns when we are discussing this legislation.

As I said, we have worked very hard to obtain central commitment to the poverty eradication targets, to try to co-ordinate the objectives of the entire international development system—including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, regional development banks, all the United Nations agencies and all the bilateral agencies. We do not want a plethora of fragmented, different projects in countries, but to pool our resources in the budgets of Governments who have clear, explicit and measurable poverty-eradication objectives. We are increasingly receiving co-operation across the international system in achieving that objective, which is increasingly being accepted as the way in which we should proceed. I am proud that our Government have led in much of that work.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

My right hon. Friend mentioned the issue of poverty reduction strategies, to which we are all signed up. However, is not one of the big issues in the world the need for poor countries to trade with rich countries? As poor countries are said to be losing out, to the tune of about £500 million annually, to the rich countries, that trade is clearly a transnational issue. Clearly, when we consider that that £500 million loss is 14 times more than those countries receive in overseas aid each year, trade is also a central issue. I am delighted that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Chancellor have mentioned that fact in some of their previous speeches.

Clare Short

I very much agree with my hon. Friend, who describes an aspect of the process of separating the issue of world poverty from the charity box. Development efforts are not simply the administration of an aid budget. We have to consider all the instruments of government in determining how we can create an international trade system that is fairer and gives developing countries a chance to grow their economies. It is therefore very welcome that Pascal Lamy, the European Union Trade Commissioner, proposed the everything but arms initiative to improve trade access for the world's poorest countries to the European Union market, which is the world's largest. Although those countries account for only 0.4 per cent. of world trade, there was resistance to the initiative—which had to be watered down somewhat before it could be passed by qualified majority voting. Nevertheless, it was passed. That is a very important first step, and I hope that there will be very many more steps.

As I said, the Bill's purpose is to entrench poverty reduction as the purpose and objective of United Kingdom development policy. We are working hard to entrench that objective around the world. We live in a time when—with the new wealth and technology created by the new information technologies, the abundance of capital and the way in which we can share knowledge around the world—there could be massive progress in poverty reduction. I think that we are at a turning point. We shall either make massive progress or see the poorest people and countries more marginalised and impoverished. The Bill entrenches in United Kingdom statute the certainty that United Kingdom Government efforts will be absolutely focused on securing a systematic reduction of poverty.

4.34 pm
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon)

I agree with the spirit of the Secretary of State's comments, particularly when she described the world as we know it. The Opposition share a common objective with the Government: we seek to alleviate world poverty. We, too, seek a more stable world in which every person has access to basic living standards, a basic education and primary health care—a place where children are free from involvement in violent conflict. We also seek to pursue that vision. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State and her Department for what they have done in the past four years to move towards that common objective.

In the past two years of doing this job, from something of a standing start, I have become absolutely persuaded that the right kind of help can make a very real difference. I have seen with my own eyes as I have travelled to some of the poorest parts of the world that focused development works. I have seen projects, relationships and work being done in all parts of the world that make me proud to be British, whether it involves our own Department for International Development, British charities or British people making their own contribution to alleviating grinding poverty and helping people to be free from poverty and stand on their own two feet. We can change lives and bring hope to many, and so we must.

I felt it was right to start by putting on the record very clearly the fact that we share a common goal and that we agree with many of the steps that the Government have taken to work towards it. We have always been happy to support the Government where we believe that they have acted in the best interests of developing countries. Hon. Members will agree that on several occasions I have recorded in the Chamber my support for certain actions taken by the Department. I particularly agree with the Secretary of State's comments today about the importance of Governments working with each other and with multilateral organisations and other agencies in a concerted effort to bear down on global poverty and instability.

So we are singing from the same hymn sheet this afternoon. We do not oppose the broad thrust of the Bill, but we have a number of questions and reservations about some of its contents and I will exercise my constitutional duty in raising as forensically as I can, during my short remarks this afternoon, my concerns about certain aspects. Of course we will continue with that approach in Committee.

In the past four years, it has been a great pity that there have been so few opportunities for the House to debate international development. In 1997 the Government said that they envisaged an annual debate on international development. That has not happened. The Labour manifesto said that international development would be brought back into the mainstream of Government decision making, yet we have not had a single debate on international development in Government time since 1997.

In the Queen's Speech, the Prime Minister described how the Government planned to shape the forces of globalisation"—[Official Report, 6 December 2000; Vol 359, c. 4.] by means of the globalisation White Paper. It was a massive claim and a good White Paper, yet the House has never been given the opportunity to debate it. It was not even presented by way of a statement to the House. A White Paper that was going to shape the forces of globalisation and was important enough to be included in the Queen's Speech was not important enough, it seems, to be brought to the House by way of a statement.

Clare Short

I share the hon. Gentleman's view that we should have more dabates on international development. I believe that there is a lag in all parliamentary systems across the world, in that international development is in the charity box and not in the mainstream of politics. That is immoral and an error as regards the future stability of the world.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the lack of a statement on the globalisation White Paper. As hon. Members would imagine, I pressed for a statement and was told by the usual channels that the Opposition would be irritated because they had other objectives. A bit of honesty about this is in order. Have the Opposition been pressing for more debates on international development, and did the hon. Gentleman try to exercise his influence through the usual channels to get a statement, as I most certainly did?

Mr. Streeter

I am flabbergasted by what I have just heard. We certainly pressed for a statement. As someone who used to be part of the usual channels, polluted though they are, I can tell the House that there was no way in which we would have tried to block a statement. We were calling for a statement on an important White Paper that was going to shape the forces of globalisation. You may remember, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I complained, on a point of order, about the absence of a statement on the day in question. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to say that she was pressing for a statement, but she has talked in the past about joined-up Government. It is a pity that she was not able to influence her colleagues and ensure that that important statement was brought to the House.

Mrs. Fyfe

To enable the House to gauge the sincerity of Opposition attitudes on this matter, will the hon. Gentleman remind us of how many White Papers on international development were published between 1979 and 1997?

Mr. Streeter

I was going to welcome the hon. Lady back after her recent illness, but now I am not so sure. To be serious, I am afraid that I do not know how many White Papers were published in that time. However, had the previous Government produced one, a statement would certainly have been made about it, as that Government did not bypass the House of Commons. I hope that the hon. Lady finds that answer—never mind the quality, feel the width—satisfactory.

We have heard a lot in the past four years about the Government's contempt for Parliament. Nowhere has that contempt been more clearly demonstrated than in their handling of the vital subject of international development. I do not like the Secretary of State's expression "charity box", as I think that it demeans the vital role that charities play in development, but I agree with her that the world is waking up to globalisation and to interdependence.

In every country in the developed world, our responsibility to the developing world is becoming more and more politically mainstream. That is in part because of the impact of our globalised and interdependent world, and in part because more and more people are taking an interest in this vital subject. To that extent, therefore, I agree with the Secretary of State that international development is becoming a centre-stage concern, and that the system may sometimes lag behind the new realities.

British aid and development enjoy a high reputation all over the world. British aid charities often lead the way, and the newly branded Department for International Development has built on the impressive achievements of the previous Administration. I am able to pay a genuine tribute to the work done by the Secretary of State's officials in many different countries.

In the space of just a few moments, I have praised the Department for International Development several times. That clears the way for a damning attack on the Secretary of State later in my speech.

The Secretary of State told the House in November 1997: I have paid my tributes, and they were genuine, to Lynda Chalker".—[Official Report, 5 November 1997; Vol. 300, c. 320.] The OECD said in 1997: At the last Aid Review of the United Kingdom, the Committee recognised the well organised, business-like character of the British bilateral programme, drawing on substantial national expertise. The last DAC aid review was impressed by the internal procedures of DFID's predecessor agency. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), who was involved in that predecessor agency and who helped to secure that impressive report.

However, Labour Members sometimes give the impression that history began on 1 May 1997, and that they invented overseas aid on the same date. Britain has always had a strong record on aid and development. For many years, under the previous Conservative Government and under this Government, Britain has also led the world in debt relief. Part of our historic and strategic role in the world is to play our full part in relieving global poverty and working for global stability.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the shift in policy to untie aid from trade was correct? Will he make statements in support of the change, especially given that British companies and businesses sometimes raise the matter?

Mr. Streeter

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the first of what I hope will be many opportunities this afternoon to plug the Opposition's policy paper on this subject. It clearly sets out that a Conservative Government coming to power on 4 May would not reconnect aid and trade.

The next Conservative Government will build upon the fine tradition that I have just outlined. Against that background. I turn to the Bill. I have already said that we stand ready to support policies that are effective in reducing global poverty. I listened very carefully to the Secretary of State's address; none the less, my first question is whether the Bill is necessary at all.

The Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to focus development policy on poverty reduction, but she already has that power. If she does not have it, much of her activity over the past four years has been illegal. The Bill gives the Government power to carry out humanitarian assistance, but they already have that power. It gives the Government the power to promote development awareness, but they are already doing that.

What is the point of the Bill? Why introduce it just before the election? What difference will it make to the way in which the Department for International Development goes about its work? How will it improve the British aid effort? Once the Bill becomes law, what difference will it make to the way in which the Secretary of State does her job? I suspect that it will make no difference, so why introduce it? I would like the Under-Secretary of State for International Development—whom I welcome to his newish position—to deal with these questions in detail in his winding-up speech. I have a feeling that he may have plenty of time in which to do so.

Mr. Bercow

In recognising the wisdom of the Secretary of State's point that poor people should not be obliged to pay for the misdeeds of their tyrannical Governments, and acknowledging in the process that Governments often face appalling dilemmas as to whether and when to turn the tap of Government assistance on or off, will my hon. Friend press the Under-Secretary to explain how, in allocating aid, we can give more effective teeth to the criterion of good governance?

Mr. Streeter

Not for the first time, my hon. Friend has gone straight to the heart of the matter. I wish to talk quite a lot about good governance. He is right to want the Minister to say more about what will be done to bring good governance centre stage.

I have some specific concerns about the Bill. It seeks to set a new focus on poverty reduction. In one sense, who on earth could disagree with that? However, are there not hidden dangers in setting such a narrow legal framework? What does that mean for work and funding linked specifically to democracy building, support for good governance and the rule of law? Everyone in this Chamber knows that these are fundamental to strengthening the framework in developing countries if global poverty is to be reduced. Indeed, the next Conservative Government will bring them centre stage. Is the right hon. Lady certain that a court would construe these activities as being within the definition of poverty reduction, if challenged by judicial review? Has she taken expert legal advice on that matter?

Clare Short


Mr. Streeter

I am glad that the right hon. Lady trusts her lawyers. That is good.

What about action to deter the topical and very evil trade in trafficking human beings? Is that within the poverty focus? What about support for a clamp-down on the illicit drugs that destroy so many lives? How about action on the flow of small arms to regions engulfed in conflict? The right hon. Lady will no doubt have read my policy paper and seen our new commitment to introducing a scheme to crack down on the flow of small arms in regions of conflict. If the Bill makes progress between now and 3 May, will I be able to introduce that scheme on 4 May?

Clare Short

In the areas of good governance or dealing with the harm that drugs do, many interventions can be made. In all government systems, people regard the development budget as a residual to fund their particular concerns. Those may be completely proper and honourable matters, but they are not always to do with the reduction of poverty.

When people grow drugs because they have no other livelihood, supporting them so that they can have other livelihoods and a better, legitimate life is a proper part of development assistance spending. However, the large amounts of money that could be spent on preventing drugs from flowing across the world—desirable as that is—would not come within development budget funding.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is: yes, in all regards, if the point of the reform is to create conditions under which poor people will have the chance of a better life and poverty will be reduced. The answer is no if the objective is desirable but it has nothing to do with improving the lives of the poor of the world. That is the legal advice that has been received, and that is the intention of the Bill.

Mr. Streeter

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for making matters clearer, but she has, in one sense, given weight to my concern. Aspects of support will be defined as poverty reduction, according to her opinion, and other aspects will fall outside that definition. The Bill rightly gives her that discretion, but she will be giving a subjective opinion, and one can anticipate a challenge to future DFID funding and support by well intentioned, well motivated people concerned that the Department is funding one aspect rather than another about which they feel passionate. I simply ask the Secretary of State to make sure that the Bill is robust enough to withstand judicial review. We shall wish to go into that point in detail in Committee.

Dr. Tonge

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that poverty reduction measures can be achieved by the Department for International Development only if other measures, such as arms control, are introduced by other Departments? That is what we lack.

Mr. Streeter

I certainly agree that we have had precious little joined-up thinking in the past four years from a Government who promised it.

Mr. Browne

When he asked whether the Bill's terms were robust enough to allow the Secretary of State to do what she wanted in relation to good governance, the hon. Gentleman referred to his own policy paper. I confess that I have not read it, but I shall correct that omission as soon as possible. He suggested that if the Conservatives came to power, good governance would be a stated objective of development assistance. Presumably, they would support good governance only for the purposes of development. Would they support development for any purpose other than poverty reduction?

Mr. Streeter

Good governance would certainly be the focal point of the next Conservative Government's development policy. There is no question but that we shall support countries in their march towards good governance, without which there would be no framework to sustain the investment and entrepreneurial activity that cause living standards to improve. That will take centre stage in our policy.

The Secretary of State has answered the questions that I have put so far. Would the Bill permit steps to facilitate private investment, which can work faster than anything else to reduce poverty? Will she give her definition of poverty—perhaps in Committee? What are the benefits of imposing the narrow approach in the Bill? How would it make us better off?

We shall wish to explore those questions at length in Committee, and I hope that the programme motion will allow enough time, which the motion on the Order Paper certainly does not. Given that we have had few opportunities to hear from the Secretary of State in the House—though it is always an illuminating experience—will she confirm whether she will serve on the Standing Committee?

Clare Short

I do not intend to serve on the Committee. I have an incredibly able deputy to do that job for me, and we can expand the activities and achievements of our Department by not wasting our resources on performing the same task.

Mr. Streeter

I am disappointed, since the Secretary of State's input would be important as this tricky matter passes through Committee, but I hear what she says.

The Government's poverty focus is inextricably linked to international targets on poverty reduction, which the Secretary of State mentioned in her speech. We all support those targets. The Government subscribe to the 2015 target of halving global poverty. Who would not? But are there not real dangers in hiding behind remote long-term pledges? Targets are not the same as outputs. As we have seen with hospital waiting lists, the wrong target can be counterproductive. We have already seen how progress towards international poverty targets is failing. Recently, the UN stated that the current rate of progress towards halving world poverty is less than a third of that required to fulfil the 2015 target—a worrying admission.

Even when those targets are broken down, there are problems. For example, under the DFID public service agreement for 1999–2002, the allocation of aid to the poorest countries was supposed to be 80 per cent. last year; instead, it was 69 per cent. That is lower than in the previous year. Little progress has been made on maternal mortality, which led to the target being scrapped altogether this year. DFID could not obtain sufficient data on the target for enrolment in primary schools. If the Government cannot achieve even their smaller targets, what realistic hope is there for their global targets?

What a new Labour approach it is to set a target, announce it with fanfares in the press and include it in all the glossy brochures but, when it becomes clear that the target will not be reached, quietly to forget about it. Targets are worth while only when they are consistently applied so that progress can realistically be measured. They do not work if one keeps moving the goalposts.

For example, last October the Secretary of State said that 35 countries were eligible for debt relief and that it would be a disaster if we did not get three quarters of them on track by 2000. Three quarters of 35 is 26, but only 22 countries have qualified—four fewer than the right hon. Lady's target—so presumably that is a disaster. No, apparently it is not; instead of admitting that the target had been missed, she simply downgraded it. In a written answer, she said: I am pleased to report that 22 countries have qualified for exceptional debt relief … exceeding our target of 20 countries qualifying by end of 2000."—[Official Report, 10 January 2001: Vol. 360, c. 577W.] Meaningless targets, continually downgraded, do not help hungry children. We want a clearer, more specific focus for British aid. I shall say more about that later in my speech.

The Bill gives the Secretary of State wide discretion as to how to apply the objective, supported on all sides, of reducing global poverty—rightly so. We support that wide discretion. However, when considering how the Secretary of State is likely to exercise her powers, if the Bill becomes law and in the unlikely event of the Government's re-election, we are entitled to examine the policies that she has pursued to date.

The Government have begun to establish a clear pattern in their approach to international development. Increasingly, they are moving to a sector-funded approach and adopting a Government-to-Government approach—turning their back on some excellent work done by charities. This afternoon, the Secretary of State confirmed more or less—that that is her approach.

Clare Short

As ever, the hon. Gentleman shows that he does not understand these matters. One cannot create effective modern governance—good governance—without engaging with Governments. It is the role of charities to bolster civil society, or to run pilot projects that show what is doable. As a Government, we are providing £195 million a year to UK non-governmental organizations that are involved in development assistance; that is more than we provide to the World Bank or to the UN development agencies. The hon. Gentleman is pursuing two contradictory objectives. If we want good governance, we have to engage with Government systems. If we put more effort outside Government, we will not achieve more effective Government systems. There is a contradiction in the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. Streeter

I am sorry to say that it is the Secretary of State who does not understand. The whole point of engaging with Governments should be to improve their governance, but her engagement with Governments all over the world does not have the specific focus of improving the quality of their governance; it is to deliver projects in those countries that are more often run by her officials than by their Ministers.

The right hon. Lady referred to the allocation of £195 million to charities and NGOs. That sum constitutes 8 per cent. of the DFID budget—no wonder the Conservatives have pledged that in our first Parliament we will double the proportion of DFID money to be spent through NGOs and charities. We believe in the quality of their work and in the excellent outcome of all their efforts. The Government have begun to establish a clear pattern of sector funding, Government-to-Government aid, and talking tough but acting soft in their attempts to improve the failing European Union aid programme, which wastes 30 per cent. of British aid money. I should like to examine each of those issues in turn.

We have serious reservations about the sector-wide approach to aid. It is dangerous to pour money into a developing-government programme with no clear knowledge of or control over how it is used, and the Department has highlighted those concerns. A research paper that it produced in 1998—entitled, "Social Development Issues in Sector Wide Approaches"—states that donor governments will have to come to terms with accepting the loss of direct control which project processes brought to donor staff in many instances". It also states: Any individual donor's agenda is likely to be subsumed within a collective donor approach", and will involve handing over the control to national institutions in partner countries. It continues: Individual donor agencies joining a common programme with key partners in the country concerned lose a certain level of direct control over activities they support". Of course, for a Government and country committed to poverty reduction and good governance, sector-wide programmes may well succeed, but in countries with no real commitment to good governance, taxpayers' money will simply be poured into a black hole. I believe that the Government need to be more cautious in their use of those programmes if public support for development is to be achieved.

The confidence of the British people in Government-to-Government aid is very low. We know that from the survey of opinion that appears on the Department's own website. The survey clearly shows that the majority of British people believe that Britain is a soft touch when it comes to aid. Although the British people have, time and again, shown themselves compassionate and generous in their support for people in crisis—whether in Mozambique, Kosovo or Gujarat—those same people have a low opinion of governmental spending on development. So the Government must win back lost trust and confidence by ensuring that British aid is not abused or misused; but that has not always been the case in the past four years. The Government are ignoring the findings of their own survey.

Let us consider Malawi. Far more than half the population over which the Malawi Government preside live in absolute poverty and more than 40 per cent. cannot read and write—so how could the Government of Malawi afford to buy a fleet of luxury Mercedes cars for Ministers? The British high commissioner knew that that would be unacceptable to British taxpayers, who have stumped up £46 million for that country this year alone. When I raised the issue in the House with the Secretary of State, she denied that there was a problem. However, there was a problem and the cars had to be sold, but the damage was done. How can the British people have confidence that their money, pumped directly into the Government of Malawi, is not simply freeing up resources that enrich the elite?

Clare Short

The hon. Gentleman misleads the House, and I am sure that he would not wish to do so. I told him that no corruption was involved in procuring those cars, but that it was outrageous extravagance, engaged in by the previous Finance Minister. The current Finance Minister of Malawi made it clear, at the conference in London last Monday, that I had been in touch with him and that he had announced that the cars would not be procured for Ministers; they would be sold and the funds spent on poor people in Malawi. The hon. Gentleman simply misleads the House, as he so often tries to do, in suggesting that I—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. The right hon. Lady must not make such a remark, and I invite her to withdraw it. No hon. Member misleads the House.

Clare Short

I should like some advice from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has said that my response when he raised an issue was other than it was. I am sure that that was inadvertent, but it misled the House, and I need to correct the record.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is perfectly in order for the right hon. Lady to say that an hon. Member may have said something that was incorrect, but it is offensive in parliamentary terms to suggest that an hon. Member has misled the House.

Mr. Streeter

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Lady confuses her recent response on Malawi to the Select Committee with the response that I received when I raised the issue in the House—she can check Hansard—before Christmas. The impression given by those on the Government Benches was that there was no problem, and they dismissed my raising the issue. Subsequently, the Malawi Government had to sell the cars.

The money raised from their sale might have reached the correct coffers in the Malawi Government, but how much was lost by selling new cars on a second-hand basis? We all know that cars, especially expensive ones, depreciate rapidly, and we wonder what that episode cost British taxpayers.

On Zimbabwe, how can the Government spend millions of pounds of taxpayers' money training the police and the army in a country whose President shops at Harrods, funds a war costing $1 million a day and oppresses his own people? Aid to the Zimbabwean Government should have been stopped a long time ago. The Government's inability to take a tough line with aid recipients undermines the very confidence in development that the Bill seeks to promote.

Corruption and waste are clearly major obstacles to encouraging support for development, so we might expect the Government to take every step possible to eradicate them. As we have already heard, however, Labour has failed to introduce legislation to enforce the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development convention on bribery. In 1997, the Secretary of State said in one of her first speeches: While developed countries have been aiding poor countries, their representatives have also been corrupting their governments in the interests of trade. It is right that developed countries have agreed to negotiate a convention to make it a crime to bribe public officials in a foreign country and to stop bribes".

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

Why, in every year of the Conservative Government's term of office, was bribery of foreign officials tax deductible?

Mr. Streeter

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman raises an issue that has nothing to do with the point that I am making, which is that, despite their posturing, rhetoric and four years in government, Labour has not introduced legislation on the OECD convention.

This Government have done nothing to enforce the convention. No prosecution has been brought under British law in the past four years; the Government have sat on their hands while corruption has abounded. Transparency International, a well known and much respected body, has said: Tony Blair and Robin Cook are said to have an ethical foreign policy. It is difficult to claim this if you don't have support for the OECD convention. This Government can find time to ban foxhunting, but cannot make time to crack down on international corruption.

Where is the anti- bribery Bill? It is not good enough for the Secretary of State to say that she wishes that another Department had introduced it. Where is the joined-up thinking? Ministers promised in April 2000 that it would be introduced as soon as possible, but the Queen's Speech came and went. Where is the Bill?

Clare Short

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Government of whom he was a member, and for whom he was collectively responsible, took the view that existing British law enforced the convention and that there was no need to legislate? His Government did not propose any legislation. We undertook a review and are committed to legislating.

Mr. Streeter

The Secretary of State misunderstands the position yet again. She has had four years to introduce the legislation and to check the position under British law following the OECD convention. My point is that last April, a Minister in the Government of whom she is a member said that the Bill would be introduced as soon as possible. We have since had a Queen's Speech, a vehicle for the introduction of such a Bill. None was forthcoming. The Government do not give the priority to bearing down on corruption that the next Conservative Government will give it.

Mr. Browne

Will the hon. Gentleman undertake that, if and when the Bill is introduced, no Conservative Members will oppose it on the grounds that it would give courts in this country jurisdiction over offences committed abroad? In the four years that I have been a Member of this Parliament, I have listened time and again to speeches of that nature from Conservative Members whenever we seek to bring jurisdiction home. I suspect that I shall hear such speeches again in the context of the Bill on the International Criminal Court.

Mr. Streeter

What a telling intervention that was—as though any Conservative Front Bencher could guarantee anything that a Conservative Member might say inside or outside the House. We believe that Members of Parliament are elected to represent their constituents and to speak their own minds in public and in private. What a contrast that is with the Labour party. The hon. Gentleman has as good as admitted that people such as himself take the line from their Front Bench spokesmen and that that is all they will ever say. We have known that for years, and are pleased to hear it confirmed.

My second major concern is that a third of all UK aid is channelled through the European Union. We know that its programmes are completely unacceptable and ineffective. Although the Bill does not alter the status of aid to the EU, the Government's new poverty focus puts Britain and Europe on a collision course. How can a Government who want aid to be channelled to the poorest countries contribute a third of their aid budget to an agency that last year gave most of its development aid to Morocco and Egypt? Surely their objectives are incompatible.

How can a Government who are committed to the elimination of world poverty seriously compromise that fight by funding an organisation with such a track record? According to the Blak report, which was issued by the European Parliament last week, the EU has the same number of staff in Mali to preside over an aid budget of 152 million euros as it has in Barbados, which has an aid budget of next to nothing. The picture of eurocrats sunning themselves on Caribbean beaches at taxpayers' expense is a scandal.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Does my hon. Friend greet with alarm yesterday's meeting between President Mugabe of Zimbabwe and none other than the EU's Commissioner for Development Mr. Poul Nielson, presumably with a view to requesting the EU to continue and increase aid to that tyrannical regime?

Mr. Streeter

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. President Mugabe has benefited in his country from the publicity of being received by leaders of member state countries and Commissioner Nielson. That is a disgrace and has done untold harm to the cause of democracy and freedom in Zimbabwe. It will be a scandal if his visit produces more money from the EU when he presides so oppressively over that country. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter.

The Government missed the chance at the Nice summit to get the EU aid programme sorted out once and for all. They refused even to put it on the agenda, despite our repeated requests. The Secretary of State deploys the right rhetoric, but once again her Government fail to act. The only target set for EU aid spending is for it to be more focused by 2006, so we face five more years of waste unless the recent reforms work.

The Conservatives are the only political party that is committed to fighting that waste. In almost every case, bilateral aid provides better value for money than EU aid programmes. When we take office, we will immediately review the effectiveness of the Commission's reforms. If we conclude that they have failed to deliver a more streamlined, more focused and less wasteful aid budget, we will fight for a treaty change to allow member states to deliver aid bilaterally. The Government should have put the mechanism for that on the table at the Nice summit, but they point-blank refused to do so.

Mr. Bercow

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government's failure on this matter at the Nice summit is especially unfortunate given that it coincided with the report of the European Court of Auditors on 10 January 2000? That criticised EU aid programmes for their "weaknesses and shortcomings" and specifically denounced the European Commission for its cumbersome procedures and overly centralised decision making. Surely something should have been done by now.

Mr. Streeter

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point: it was a missed opportunity, and I am afraid that the poorest people in the world will pay the price of misdirected EU aid over the next few years. He is right to mention the Blak report, which makes it clear that we cannot be too optimistic about the reforms working. It suggests that we would have to dismantle the whole bureaucratic culture of the Commission to deliver an effective aid programme. How many hon. Members believe that that is likely to happen?

Clare Short

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to confirm that the Government of whom he was a member altered the proportion of the UK aid budget from 10 to 30 per cent., but that they made no effort whatsoever to reform or improve the European Community's development effort. There is now a major reform agenda. It was driven by UK pressure, and the publication that we made available to the House indicated the direction of those reforms. The hon. Gentleman says that if the country ever has the misfortune to have another Conservative Government, they will review the reform agenda to see whether it has been implemented and will take action if it has not. His party's record is to give more aid, and not reform the system through the EC. The Government's record is to put major reform in place. Of course, if we get a better EC effort, it will reach countries with which the UK does not have bilateral programmes, so the possible impact is greater.

Mr. Streeter

The Secretary of State knows full well that the depth of the problem with the European Union's aid programme became apparent in 1996 and 1997, just as her party took office. She has had four years to push for reform of the programme. Under the Maastricht treaty, the proportion of aid was, of course, increased. My point is not what happened four or five years ago, but that the Secretary of State missed a golden opportunity to set matters straight at Nice and did not even try to put the issue on the agenda. As I said, the poorest people in the world will pay a heavy price for that.

The White Paper that preceded the Bill rightly focused on the importance of globalisation, which impacts on all of us. I am pleased that the Secretary of State now supports globalisation and capitalism with the zeal of a true convert. Even The Economist praised her recently, saying that she makes a strong intellectual case for global capitalism, arguing that it should be seen as the solution to global poverty rather than the cause of it. The Economist says that the Secretary of State has changed her mind about her youthful sermons". For that, she should be commended.

Most of us would be very happy indeed with that praise from The Economist. Strangely, however, the Secretary of State is not.

Mr. Worthington

Should not the hon. Gentleman quote the rest of the article, in which the Secretary of State pointed out that globalisation is neither a good thing nor a bad thing overall and that action depends on political will? The Labour party's political will, unlike that of the Conservatives, is to end world poverty.

Mr. Streeter

The hon. Gentleman is not correct in thinking that his party has a monopoly on compassion for world poverty. I made that point earlier and made it clear that there is a fine Conservative tradition of bearing down on global poverty, which will continue and be consolidated under the next Conservative Government.

I shall quote more of the exchanges between the Secretary of State and The Economist, which made interesting reading. Most of us would be happy with the praise that the magazine gave her. Strangely, however, she was not. She was so upset by The Economist's praise, that she was moved to write and complain. She claimed: your snide comments on my political views and the Globalisation White Paper are misinformed". However, The Economist cannot be blamed for thinking that the Secretary of State has had a Damascene conversion to global capitalism. In almost every speech, she demonstrates that she has changed her mind on every important argument in the past decade. The old Labour firebrand has become new Labour through and through.

Clare Short

The hon. Gentleman does not know what he is talking about. Since I joined the Labour party, I have been in the tradition of the Attlee Government, who always believed in a mixed economy, effective states and the market doing its job. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I was never a neo-liberal, a Thatcherite or a monetarist in favour of structural adjustments. He, of course, was—he would roll back the state and let inequality rip. He supported all those policies—I did not. I did not support them when I was young, and my party did not when it was in power in 1945.

The hon. Gentleman shares the ignorance of the editor of The Economist and, perhaps, has a background of fundamentalism in supporting market forces ripping through and rolling back the state. That did untold harm to the world, and was driven by the Government whom he supported.

Mr. Streeter

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her second speech of the afternoon. I join the editor of The Economist. After the exchanges between the Secretary of State and the magazine, it published a second article about her, which is headed, "No praise, please, I'm Labour". It says:

We unreservedly withdraw any praise we erroneously gave her for doing so without embarrassment. I am pleased that the Secretary of State said that she is in the Attlee tradition. The White Paper embracing globalisation was written by a new Labour Secretary of State, and is a far cry from the class warrior of old who, only in 1996, said:

we socialists are different because we believe that the economy of the world must be managed in a way that provides a decent life for every person … It is how the time for the democratic socialists of the world to take the world forward again". As is so often the case with recent converts, the right hon. Lady has gone over the top. She has misunderstood what globalisation is all about. She has said that the old idea of national sovereignty … is gone. The world is one", but that is not true The world is not one. We will raise that fundamental issue with her in Committee. The nation state still makes the greatest impact on people's lives. For a child in Nigeria, it is the Government of Nigeria who hold the keys to her future. The United Nations Development Programme's poverty report summed up the matter in five words:

Good governance—the missing link. I shall set out what the Conservatives will do in office to take practical steps to bear down on global poverty. Real change in a developing country can come about only when there is political stability. That means a framework of competent and responsible government, open and accountable institutions and a strong civil society. It means the rule of law and an effective and honest legal system. Conservative international development policy will focus on that.

It is our firm belief that when developing countries make a commitment to good governance, aid money is better spent and foreign direct investment is encouraged. Foreign aid alone will never be sufficient to lift a country out of poverty. It is by encouraging the private sector and foreign investment that we will help economies to grow and living standards to rise. Conservative development policy will help to lay the key foundations of stability, on which developing nations can then build. We want to empower developing countries committed to change, so that they can govern responsibly for all their citizens. In government, we will focus on good governance. We intend to amend the Bill in Committee to reflect that.

We also believe that although Governments may be ideally placed to deal directly with other Governments, that is only part of the story. It is hard for Governments to come alongside ordinary people and provide tailored solutions to individual needs. That is primarily the role of charities, non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations, which do an excellent and priceless job all over the world, caring for those in need.

In government, we will seek to boost the role of such bodies in development. We have pledged to double the proportion of the DFID budget spent by NGOs over the course of the first Parliament. We will also support the smaller aid charities, which feel let down by the present Government. In a consultation exercise involving more than 1,000 smaller aid charities, we were told again and again that they felt rejected by the Government, and that the application process for support for life-changing work in some of the poorest parts of the world was a long and painful process. We will put that right.

The Government have no information on their website to tell people how hey can help in international development. After the recent Gujarat earthquake, for example, Australian and American websites outlined what to collect, what not to collect, which organisations are working in the region and what technical assistance might be helpful. They were helping their people, but the British Government failed to support and encourage the energy and drive of the British people so that they could play their full part in fighting global poverty.

The Government do not respect or encourage the massive impact that private individuals and charities can make. The people of Britain have consistently demonstrated that they care about development issues. We will provide more information and better co-ordination of the relief efforts of British people. We will set up an agency, aid direct. Through a sophisticated website, database and call centre, aid direct will act as a central information service for members of the public, providing up-to-date and accurate information about all areas of development.

Aid direct will be dedicated to offering advice on how best the British people can help those in developing countries. It will help to match needs in the developing world with willing helpers in the UK. Aid direct will be set up in partnership with the NGO community, with constant input from NGOs and embassies throughout the world. It will empower the British public and small aid charities to make a real difference to communities in the developing world.

Harnessing the enthusiasm of the British people will not only help developing countries, but will raise the profile of development in the UK, so in government we will focus on good governance, do more to back the excellent work of British charities and sort out the EU aid scandal.

I should like to raise three other concerns about the Government's handling of international development that the Bill appears to do nothing to address. The Government are not supporting poverty reduction and sustainable development when they recruit staff from developing countries to fill UK shortages. The Secretary of State will know that the South African Minister of Education, Kader Asmal, has severely criticised the United Kingdom for poaching the most highly trained teachers from South Africa to cover up the Government's failure to recruit and retain teachers. Minister Asmal said that such recruitment drives showed little concern for the development needs of South Africa and the money and effort put into producing good quality graduates. Surely the Secretary of State cannot believe that it is right to fill our schools and hospitals with qualified doctors, nurses and teachers who have been stolen from developing countries. How can we expect those countries to lift themselves out of poverty if we help to train their teachers, but then snatch them away when they have been fully trained? How can she preside over that modern-day press gang? Where is the joined-up government, and what will she do to stop that damaging policy?

Last week, I received from DFID a catalogue listing more than 200 publications, including reports, plans, strategies and proposals. How do those publications contribute to the relief of poverty? One of the reports deals with what is on television, but how does a report on watching television reduce global poverty? The Government must be completely out of touch if they have to commission a report to find out what is on the television. Another publication seeks to explain poverty and the environment by using colourful characters such as Socrates and Frank Zappa. How can the Secretary of State justify the spending of taxpayers' money on so many glossy brochures?

It is no wonder that people are disillusioned. That unnecessary waste has cost British taxpayers £2 million since 1997. This year alone, the Department will spend £55,000 on direct mail promotion of its publications—money that will be used only to send the glossies out. During the past four years, it has spent more than £4 million on recruitment advertising. Since Labour came to power, aid administration costs have increased by £10 million in real terms. More and more is spent on administration, publications and advertising, which hardly demonstrates poverty focus.

My final point concerns the Government's promise to increase aid as a proportion of national wealth. In 1997, the Secretary of State stated: As our Manifesto and the Government's White Paper on International Development makes clear, we are committed to the UN 0.7 per cent. oda/GNP target and to reversing the decline in UK aid spending".—[Official Report, 12 November 1997; Vol. 300, c. 592W.] When Labour took office in May 1997, aid as a percentage of GNP stood at 0.27 per cent. Last year, after it had had three years in government, that figure had fallen to 0.23 per cent. Only in the world of new Labour can that be described as a rise. The Secretary of State claims that there is a technical flaw in the figures, but in this case the phrase "technical flaw" is new Labour speak for the Government's complete failure to meet their target and keep their promises on aid spending.

If last year was a flaw, let us consider as a whole what has happened over the current Parliament and the previous one, including DFID's projections for the next two years. On average, in the five years 1992 to 1996 inclusive, the previous Conservative Government spent 0.3 per cent. of GNP on aid. Between 1997 and 2001, the current Government will have spent an average of 0.27 per cent. of GNP on aid, according to their own figures. That difference—0.3 per cent. versus 0.27 per cent.—must be another technical flaw. Even in real terms, aid has been lower under Labour. Last year, Labour's aid budget was still lower than those in four out of the previous five years of Conservative government.

The Secretary of State must have been giving us a prophecy in 1996 when she said: The Government always promises more money for the poorest people tomorrow, yet tomorrow never comes". Today, the truth can be told. It is not a technical flaw and the figures are clear. No matter how the Government spin or conceal it, they have broken their promise to the British people. They are spending less on aid as a percentage of GNP than the previous Conservative Government. How many ways can one say it? Labour spends less on aid than we did. The Bill is another example of fine words; time will tell whether it will make a difference to the lives of the poorest.

We will work towards a target of spending 0.7 per cent. of gross national product on aid. We have set out changes of £8 billion to Labour's public expenditure plans for 2003–04. None affects the aid budget. We shall continue to champion debt relief for the poorest countries. We will be radical, but compassionate. We recognise the reality of abject poverty and we accept the role that our country can play in helping to improve living standards for those who live in the world's poorest countries.

We will focus on good governance, give more support to charities and end the European Union aid scandal. Like the Government, we will work towards achieving the global targets on poverty, education, health and the environment. Unlike the Government, we have policies that will enable us to do that.

5.30 pm
Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston)

If I had not been a Member of Parliament since 1982, and had not enjoyed the privilege of serving in the post that the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) currently holds, I would have found it difficult to believe that he could make such a speech. It was a mean-minded, unworthy little speech, which failed to address the Bill. Above all, it failed to acknowledge one of the Government's greatest successes: the creation of the Department for International Development, which is proudly led by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Its success has been recognised not only in Great Britain and Europe but throughout the caring world. I am sorry that that has escaped the hon. Gentleman.

It was difficult to believe that we were being lectured at the Dispatch Box by a spokesperson for the party that was responsible for the Pergau dam and all its implications. I heard Sir Timothy Lankester's evidence to the Select Committee. He told us about the way in which the previous Government had repeatedly abused every aspect of overseas aid. I listened to Baroness Chalker and Lord Hurd, who failed to justify the combination of overseas aid and taxpayers' money with arms deals. The previous Government's attitude was repugnant and as indefensible then as it is today.

I welcome the Bill, and I am sure that most hon. Members and the majority of the British people welcome it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State rightly seized a legislative window of opportunity. The Bill takes international development forward by several strides and I am proud to support it. The hon. Member for South-West Devon suggested both that the Government were doing too little, and that the Bill would do too much. There has been no legislation on the subject for 21 years and it is therefore right to tackle that gap.

The hon. Gentleman referred to non-governmental organisations, charities and voluntary organisations. I have spoken to representatives of several and, like other hon. Members, I have received briefings and letters. Not one expressed the view that the Bill was unworthy of support. Indeed, some would like the Bill to contain more than we can currently include. I shall deal with that point shortly. The Bill is greatly welcomed, and my right hon. Friend is right to press on with it. Through her excellent record and the White Paper, she has established that poverty reduction is a pivotal aim of UK development assistance. We accept that it is necessary to support the activities of organisations likely to promote awareness and understanding of world poverty. That is precisely what the Bill does. It is right to do so, and those organisations welcome that.

I also welcome the fact that the Bill addresses the whole of the United Kingdom. When I hear so many other mean-minded attempts to try to set parts of the United Kingdom against one another, I welcome the fact that, on the issues of development awareness and advocacy that my right hon. Friend welcomed in her speech, the Bill will embrace both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. That is excellent in terms of involving all our people, and, in particular, young people—pupils, students—in the vital issue of development and in our perception of what the British Government in modern times have achieved and can achieve.

My right hon. Friend has confirmed in her speech and in the Bill that poverty is a global crisis, and one that is begging to be addressed in sub-Saharan Africa. That was the kind of thing that I had expected to hear from the hon. Member for South-West Devon. The number of people in poverty rose from 242 million in 1990 to 291 million in 1998, and 5,500 people die every day in Africa as a result of AIDS. More people will be concerned about dealing with those problems—which the Bill, addressing poverty as it does, can certainly do—than about whether people buy cars in Malawi or whether a statesperson of dubious standing should dominate our approach to these important issues.

I have never believed that people should suffer because of the leadership under which they happen to live at a given time. I am glad that the Bill is much more forward-looking than to suggest that, and that it sets higher horizons than that. That is quite right, too, at a time when one in five of the world's population—two thirds of them women—live in abject poverty in a world of otherwise growing prosperity.

Of all the clauses in the Bill, I most welcome clause 8. It does what we want the Government and the House to do, which is to show—not just to speak of—our support for organisations likely to promote awareness of world poverty, and to show as part of primary legislation, that they have an important role to play. The Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980 failed to address that, and it is absolutely right that we should introduce legislation to address it now.

Hon. Members will no doubt speak of their own experience in these matters during the debate. I would like briefly to speak of a recent visit that I paid to Peru, and of the impact that the Bill will have on the important work going on there. I welcome the work of organisations such as the World Development Movement and the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development. Incidentally, on the subject of corruption, I believe that that aid work managed to influence the removal of Mr. Fujimori. I would welcome a comment from the hon. Member for South-West Devon on that step forward for democracy.

Those organisations did even more. Organisations such as CAFOD in Lima, by supporting the women organising the soup kitchens—very welcome for people who have not eaten for days or, in some cases, weeks—are emphasising that women have a role to play in a developing democracy. CAFOD, in addressing the problem of HIV-AIDS in Peru, and encouraging people to support one another and to demand their rights from the Peruvian public health system, is doing what the Bill will encourage many others to do in other parts of the world.

I conclude my remarks on my experiences in Peru and, in particular, the input of CAFOD and other organisations by referring to this comment: The bill is narrower in purpose than the 1980 Act but is wider in the powers that it gives the Secretary of State to pursue poverty reduction". That is CAFOD's view, and it is mine as well. It is also one reason why I welcome the Bill.

Mr. Rowe

The right hon. Gentleman is skirting round a difficult question. He suggests that there is some merit in western aid agencies helping citizens to organise themselves to remove a corrupt Government, yet national Governments are extraordinarily leery about operating in such a way. Is not the extent to which such corrupt Governments should be respected, regardless of how badly they behave, a difficult issue? It is central, is it not?

Mr. Clarke

I would not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Of course that is an extremely difficult issue, which is why it perhaps ought to be approached with more sensitivity than was displayed by the Opposition spokesman.

In presenting the Bill to the House, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is entitled to claim credit for the £195 million that she provided to civil society groups-17 per cent. more than in 1996–97. The need for poverty reduction has been well and truly established. According to the World Bank's 2000 development indicators, about 1.2 billion people were living in extreme poverty—on less than £1 a day—in 1998. That figure was about the same 11 years previously, in 1987. Surely that invites challenge.

The record of my right hon. Friend's Department exceeds the commitments set out in our election manifesto, progressive as they were. Representations have been made about tied aid, which, for reasons that I fully understand, is not dealt with by the Bill. However, it still covers such issues positively. I understand that the WDM and others welcome the Bill, but still suggest that perhaps a little more could be added to it. My response is that the Department is indeed going ahead and addressing those other issues. We hope that the Bill will be passed, but that does not mean that we are pulling back for one moment from the commitment to tackle important matters such as tied aid, especially in the light of our experience with the Pergau dam.

Clare Short

If tied aid is supplied, the goods or consultancies procured have to go beck to the providing country. All the World Bank research shows that that creates gross inefficiency and aid is reduced in value by 25 per cent. The Bill, which states that poverty reduction must be the target, will make it impossible to reintroduce tied aid. As my right hon. Friend knows, we have announced that we are getting rid of it completely, so there is no need for an explicit provision about it. The Bill means that tied aid will not be permitted because it is not poverty focused.

Mr. Clarke

I very much welcome what my right hon. Friend says. I am sure that those charities and voluntary organisations that have been following our proceedings will note her remarks and welcome not only them, but what was said in "Eliminating World Poverty: Making Globalisation Work for the Poor".

The Bill's main thrust deals with world poverty. Of course we should aim in that direction, and my right hon. Friend can say with pride that she has introduced the measure against a backdrop of substantial improvements in international development made since she took over. Between 1997 and 2003–04, the UK aid budget will rise by 45 per cent. in real terms, and nobody can take away from her and the Government the fact that it is the largest aid budget ever.

Moreover, there have been huge debt initiatives on the part of my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister and indeed the Secretary of State, which have made remarkable progress. Important and radical as they are, however, those initiatives cannot succeed unless we address world poverty and the need to help the poorest people in the poorest countries. I believe that the Bill seeks to do that.

Poverty reduction was not placed at the heart of the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980. That is one of the Act's major defects, and one of the reasons why the Bill is necessary. The Bill accepts the challenge of eliminating poverty abroad, and I am glad that it does—but, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made clear, that does not mean that the rest of her Department's many-faceted work will not continue. Despite what she may have heard from other Ministers, the world outside recognises that my right hon. Friend has put development at the heart of this Government.

I recall the days when Question Time on Mondays ended with 10 minutes of questions on international development. A junior Minister replied for the Government; a Minister of State in another place also dealt with international development. If the hon. Member for South-West Devon needs any reminding of his Government's role in international development, compared with where we are today, I can refer him to the open letter that the then Minister, Tim Raison—on the day of his removal from office—addressed to his successor, Chris Patten. In that letter, he said that the only discussion on international development in which he had ever engaged with the then Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, had taken place on the very day when she dismissed him. How different that approach is from today's attitudes!

I say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State "Well done. We welcome the Bill. Get on with a great job: the country admires you, and so does the developing world."

5.47 pm
Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

I shall begin by justifying the need for an International Development Bill. Some have regarded international development as a handout aimed at gaining political advantage, and at enabling the money to be used as an adjunct to political and diplomatic objectives. Others have regarded it as a method of getting rid of otherwise unsaleable equipment, such as the Westland helicopters that were given to India for "humanitarian purposes". Incidentally, they were recently returned to us as "junk".

The real justification, however, goes much deeper than those passing needs of Government. For me—and, I believe, for not only the Conservative party but the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties—this is a deeply moral question of human beings' responsibilities to their fellow men. It is the issue that faced the good samaritan. For a Conservative, it involves the issue of the responsibility of those with skills and wealth for those who were not born with such advantages.

Regrettably, in feudal and early Victorian times that attitude could be deeply patronising. I believe, however, that if people are able to make money and become wealthy, it is the result of God-given skills and hard work. Such wealth brings with it responsibility for using the money wisely to create employment, train others and enable people to help themselves. That should be regarded not as patronising, but as a God-given duty.

If what I have said applies to individuals, it must also apply to countries and Governments whose wealth is gained through taxing the product of the efforts of hard-working subjects of the Queen or citizens, for the public good and for equitable reasons. Often, Britain has become wealthy because of the efforts of thousands of people toiling as slaves in the sugar industry of the West Indies, the importation of bananas produced by thousands of ill-paid and ill-housed banana farmers on plantations owned by huge American companies in Central America, the harvesting of latex in Malaysia and Indonesia to make rubber, or the mining of gold from the bowels of the earth in some of the world's deepest mines in South Africa, in conditions that can only be described as close to hell.

Britain has become rich also by the mining of diamonds in Angola and in Sierra Leone, and by exploiting the skills of the tea pickers of India and the teak loggers of Burma, Thailand and Cambodia. With that wealth from overseas has come responsibility for those who live and work overseas. We have a responsibility to them.

Why do hundreds—now thousands—of people risk their lives to come to Britain and claim political asylum? Most of them come as economic migrants fleeing the intolerable conditions that they must endure in their own countries. Some of them come to avoid persecution and are seeking a safe haven. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) confirmed in his policy speech to the Conservative party meeting in Harrogate that we should always welcome those people to our shores.

Dr. Tonge


Mr. Wells

That is what my right hon. Friend said in Harrogate, and I am going to keep him to his word.

We cannot and must not turn a blind eye to those who come for economic reasons as well. Britain cannot accommodate them all, but we can help them to provide a better living for themselves in their own countries. We have not only a moral duty to do so, but a practical and common-sense reason for doing so. That is why Conservative Members must soften their rhetoric by recognising our duty, with others, to provide the means by which the wretchedly poor of the world can help themselves out of their misery and hopelessness. As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) said, Conservative Members have a proud record. Nevertheless, that record is insufficient and more needs to be done. I should like to hear all parties give a commitment to do more and to grow the development budget.

The British people understand that something is going badly wrong when tens of thousands of people are crossing the entire length of the European continent, travelling through safe countries en route, suddenly to plead for asylum when they arrive in Britain. Something is going badly wrong when desperate people hide in the undercarriages of Eurostar trains or Boeing 747s. What is going wrong is our failure to offer investment, management and skills training in the countries from which those people have fled. In short, it is a matter of international development. I wholeheartedly welcome the new International Development Bill because I believe that it emphasises the duty of us all to promote that development.

My own conviction was triggered when, at 19 in Karachi, I saw the so-called houses that thousands of people had built on the sewage-covered banks of the Sind river. They were built of refuse such as Kelloggs cornflakes packets and anything else that they could scavenge from the river or that had been discarded by richer people. They had lived in that condition for eight years, since 1947, when the sudden and brutal division of India was agreed in a hurry by Lord Mountbatten on the instruction of Prime Minister Attlee, to settle the issue of Britain's relations with India.

What did India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom do to help those wretched people? They did very little indeed. Those people were put in that position by men who took political decisions without doing anything about the consequences for them. We could have helped them to rebuild their lives, but we did nothing. As poverty in this world is largely man made, it can be remedied by man. The appalling condition of those people made me resolve to try to build a better world that cared for them. That is why I believe that today's debate is overdue, and why we need to consider the Bill in much greater detail.

Clause 1 enshrines the poverty focus—which the Secretary of State wishes to be the core and main objective of her Bill—in legislation for the first time. The poverty reduction strategy is absolutely right, but nowhere in the Bill is there a definition of poverty. I have been in this place long enough to know why it has been omitted. The Bill's drafters would not have wanted to provide any opportunity for judicial review, so they did not define poverty.

The problem with that omission is that in very many cases, poverty is a comparative term. In just the past fortnight, for example, the Child Poverty Action Group published a paper stating that 25 per cent. of children in this country live in poverty. The abject poverty that we are discussing, and on which I think the Bill intends to focus, is—except in very exceptional and criminal situations—a life that no child in this country lives. The type of life lived by children who are born on rubbish heaps in Dhaka or in many other places around the world is a hideous life of great danger to which no human being should be subjected.

I therefore think that in Committee, we shall have to discuss further whether we need a definition of poverty. It is a very important issue if we truly want to find a way of constantly and continuously ensuring that future Secretaries of State for International Development really do concentrate the resources that are available to them on those who are in abject poverty—which I know the Secretary of State and many other hon. Members understand only too well.

Clause 3 is the humanitarian assistance clause and is a new type of provision. We sometimes wonder why it was thought necessary to include it in the Bill. The right hon. Lady explained that in cases where emergency assistance is necessary, she would like to be relieved of the poverty focus. I appreciate that in emergencies, the poor and the rich may be equally in need of humanitarian assistance. However, when we describe something as "humanitarian assistance", we have to know what wt mean by the term.

Traditionally, we have intended that humanitarian assistance should be given to people without regard to whether they are on one side or the other of a war or any other situation. That is the basis on which the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Red Crescent and other humanitarian agencies have always operated and been welcomed by both sides. Regardless of the action that has been taken by the individuals or groups involved, those agencies have offered assistance—health assistance, medical assistance, food, shelter and warmth—to both sides, and that is how the agencies have been able to operate. We have to prevent any degradation of the term "humanitarian assistance".

I am concerned that the term has already been degraded, most recently in the Kosovo crisis. For the best of reasons, the European Union decided that it would provide winter fuel and what it called humanitarian assistance—which was funded by the European Community Humanitarian Office—to two towns in southern Serbia. The reason was that the mayors of those two towns supported democracy and opposed the continuation of Milosevic's rule in Serbia. I entirely agree with that policy, but to regard that aid as humanitarian relief is a degradation of that term. If we undertook to provide fuel, we should have provided it to all towns and to all those who, were suffering from the cold and the lack of electricity as a result of the Kosovan conflict. That was not done. In my view, we risk using aid that is meant for humanitarian purposes in a political way, thereby undermining the concept of humanitarianism and destroying the capacity for emergency relief to be offered objectively and impartially.

The Bill should include a definition of humanitarian aid that puts in statute that it has to be provided impartially in order to prevent the perversion of development assistance into a politically dominated and politically motivated policy. That view is supported by the research carried out so well by Dr. Joanna Macrae, a research fellow at the Overseas Development Institute. Her arguments are compelling. She refers to: Reaffirming humanitarian principles of impartiality and independence of humanitarian action, underscoring that its primary purpose is the alleviation of suffering not to resolve conflict or achieve a political objective. We should consider that in Committee, and decide whether we need to amend the Bill.

I have some further points to make about issues raised in the Bill. The additional powers that the Secretary of State is seeking to assign, to hold shares or to offer guarantees, must relate in some way to the Commonwealth Development Corporation Act 1999. If and when shares are offered to the public under that Act, the Department for International Development will need the powers that are envisaged under clause 6.

I refer to our debate on 14 July 1999, when, as is recorded in column 529 of Hansard, I discussed how the CDC would change in the light of that Bill. That is now beginning to come to a head. I understand that the CDC is sacking many of the people involved in managing direct projects, and, indeed, that many direct projects, mainly in the agricultural sector, are being disposed of at less than cost. I warned the Secretary of State that such a tragedy might result from the nature of the CDC Bill, which I supported in principle. We now need the kind of provision that I suggested in that debate. A fund is necessary to bring about greenfield development, which can no longer be established through the CDC because it does not offer sufficient return, but is vital to kick-start economic development, particularly in agriculture, from which most people in the third world derive their income.

I urge the Secretary of State to consider how she can help that development to take place—not on the basis of an input from big companies or funds in this country, but to help the people concerned as we help people in depressed areas of this country when they have been put out of work, for whatever reason, and need a start, and just as we offer through the Welsh Development Agency, the Scottish Development Agency and so on, help to re-start businesses and so enable people to earn a living.

Clare Short

I know the figure—I mentioned it in my speech. We spent £190 million in 1991 on improving the incomes and livelihoods of the poorest people living in rural areas. The reorganisation of CDC was to get a sufficient rate of return to demonstrate that the private sector could afford to invest more in developing countries. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman agrees, Africa needs to get more value out of its agriculture and to carry out more processing within the continent. That will produce a higher rate of return and attract the inward investment that the continent needs. So we have other means of providing support to rural populations on very low incomes, and we continue to use them. The CDC reform is going through and is still on track to achieve the objectives established in the Act that we debated so thoroughly.

Mr. Wells

I am grateful for the right hon. Lady's intervention on that point. We need more explanation as to how we can help the poor start up businesses and agricultural development, now that the CDC cannot offer assistance with that. I should like more detail as to how that is being done; I would be grateful if she let me know how it will be achieved.

Let me move on to clause 11, which deals with contributions to international organisations, and use it as a hook to bring two matters to the attention of the House. They are both based on the problem of accountability. The problems relating to the European Union's accountability to the House and to the institutions are extremely serious. I urge the Secretary of State on, as I know that she has been as critical as the Select Committee on International Development has been in three reports to the House about the way in which the EU conducts aid business, as regards both the European development fund and budgetary aid. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon rightly referred to that in his speech.

The Select Committee, in its report on the effectiveness of EC aid, said: The fundamental mistake has been to allocate excessive funds in the first place for predominantly political reasons. I want to discuss that further because the Bill says that all our money is to be poverty focused, yet we are giving to an international organisation that gives aid "for predominantly political reasons". Presumably that is why President Mugabe was seeing Mr. Poul Nielson, the Commissioner in charge of these matters, yesterday.

The Select Committee report continued: The Communication on the Reform of the Management of External Assistance was frank in its admission of the extent of the problem: 'The average length of project/programme implementation has continuously increased over the last few years with a corresponding trend in the backlog of outstanding commitments that reached over 20 billion euro by the end of 1999'"— that is, the backlog. The communication continued: 'In the last five years the average delay in disbursement of committed funds has increased from 3 years to 4.5 years. For certain programmes, the backlog of outstanding commitments is equivalent to more than 8.5 years' payments.' That is a disgraceful record by any standard.

Only last Thursday, Commissioner Patten came to the House to give evidence to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. Among other things, he said that the amount of money given to the southern Balkans—Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Serbia—amounted to 850 million euros. My ears pricked up at that figure, because it is the amount that the European Union gives to some of the poorest people in the world. The EU's programmes for Latin America and Asia amount to 850 million euros a year. The programmes manage to spend that money without accumulating the backlogs accrued by the programmes for the Mediterranean and the east of Europe.

The Secretary of State must work with her EU counterparts to put right the EU's aid budget and give it a poverty focus. I know that she has been trying hard to do that and that she has got the agreement of the vast majority of her counterparts in other Governments. I have never heard any of them resile from that objective, but it is not being implemented in practice. We must redouble our efforts in that regard.

Clare Short

The Select Committee on International Development has made a contribution in that respect. The statement about EU policy reform is unprecedented in its radicalism. It admits the failures of the past, and it has been agreed by the Council of Europe and the European Commission. The European Parliament also agreed to it last week, but the reform statement needs to be implemented. There is also agreement on the decentralisation programme, which will remove the layers of bureaucracy that prevent the money from being spent.

We still need to drive the reform through, but we have made a breakthrough in achieving the commitment to it. The Government, and the Select Committee, have contributed significantly in that regard. We must finish the job, but securing the admission of past failure and the commitment to deep policy change represent an unprecedented breakthrough.

Mr. Wells

I hope that I have made clear my awareness of the Secretary of State's hard work on this matter. I did not know that the European Parliament had adopted the programme, but I am delighted to hear it. We now have the basis to ensure that the reforms are pushed down to the right levels, and that power is devolved to the countries where the EU is working.

Unfortunately, such devolution has not happened yet. The Select Committee visited Vietnam and Cambodia and found that the EU representatives remained in the unhelpful mode that we have criticised for so long. Progress has been made but, as the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon have said, we must display the determination that the right hon. Lady has shown on many occasions and ensure that reforms are pushed down to the most appropriate levels.

We must ensure that the EU is accountable when it comes to adopting and delivering a poverty focus, and the same is true of the regional development banks. The present Minister of State, Scotland Office, the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), used to he the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, a post now occupied by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). The present Minister knows a lot about this subject, and I enjoyed reading his book about Vietnam when I was there, but his predecessor did a huge amount of work on regional development banks and, unprecedentedly, visited them all.

The Department has issued reports on the banks, but the reports are disappointing because they are, inevitably, a little superficial. I know of some banks whose lending is seriously politically bent. Pressure is exerted to ensure that they invest where they should not. The banks agree to make investments for political reasons, and because their shareholders' representative in a particular country is often the Minister responsible for a particular project. The banks therefore get overwhelmed.

The Select Committee has seen the development bank for the Association of South-East Asian Nations in Bangladesh and Cambodia go behind the backs of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and offer its own help for projects on the basis that that help remains undeclared. That practice has to stop. The international community has to work together and implement a responsible and coherent policy that is accountable to the member states who are the shareholders of the World Bank, and to this House. We must ensure that the same poverty focus in bilateral programmes proposed in the Bill is adopted by the international community.

The Secretary of State has made huge efforts with regard to the problems that exist internationally. She hosted a high-powered seminar last Monday, attended by the presidents of the World Bank and the IMF. The president of the OECD, Mr. Johnson, also attended. The seminar dealt with the serious matter of child poverty. The problems of poverty require great vigour, and organisations that do not fulfil their obligations must be called to account.

My final point has to do with SWAPs—sector-wide approaches. In that regard, my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon mentioned the question of good governance. I agree with the Secretary of State's objectives. She told the Select Committee that if we can get the education departments in countries that receive assistance—bilateral assistance from us, and multilateral assistance too—to agree programmes with the IMF and to implement them, we will gain leverage, when it comes to focusing our efforts and money on poverty, that we have never achieved before.

The problem is that many countries are stricken with poverty because they are so poorly governed. Their Governments are corrupt, lazy and made up of elites interested only in feathering the nests of their members and friends. That makes it extremely difficult to get into the ideal position implied by the SWAPs policy.

When the Secretary of State gave evidence to the Select Committee last Tuesday, she said that SWAPs must be implemented at a lower level if they cannot be implemented at a higher level. She gave the example of Ghana, where co-operation and leverage were being achieved at regional or provincial level. That shows a welcome flexibility of approach, but such co-operation will not be possible in some countries.

We must learn to work to a time scale of more than three years. I could not agree more with the right hon. Lady that three-year projects merely pick at problems and do not address what is important—reducing rates of poverty and child mortality, raising the number of children attending primary school, improving the health of mothers, and so on.

More thinking must be done. In the meantime, we and the other donor countries must offer longer programmes that are better organised and designed. When faced with Governments whom we cannot trust, we must implement such programmes as far as we can.

Flexibility is essential. In Cambodia and Vietnam, the Committee encountered DFID people who said that they had worked on projects for 10 years, but were now being told that projects were out and SWAPs were in. The officials said that the Department in Victoria street did not want to hear anything about projects. However, the officials considered that projects represented the best way to address poverty, as they could be set in train before people were in a position to implement SWAPs. I hope that the Department is not going overboard in its enthusiasm for SWAPs as a method of getting a poverty focus into all our programmes.

Clare Short

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again, because this is so important. We all agree that there cannot be sector-wide or budgetary support unless a country has a reforming Government. However, reforming Governments with reforming intent often have very weak capacity. If, by working through those Governments, we can strengthen their entire public management systems, we achieve sustainability and scale.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that when that is possible, it is the best way. When it is not possible, one has to find second-best instruments; but when there is a better way of working in other countries, we may leverage the reform effort in countries that perform less well by showing what can be achieved. Working in that way achieves scale and sustainability. Working through the systems of a Government means reaching everybody and engendering sustainable reform that will continue indefinitely.

Mr. Wells

I could not agree more. If we can reach that position, it would be ideal. We should continue to try and do so and make certain that the countries that offer poverty reduction programmes mean what they say. I got the definite impression in Cambodia that its Government would say what we—including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank—wanted them to say. The proposals might look beautiful, but I got the impression that nothing of substance would happen. Either the Government did not know how to do it, or they did not have the people to do it, or they did not want to do it—I do not know what the exact combination of factors was. I know that the idea is ownership, but because such countries are so desperate for money, we have to ensure that they are not simply saying what we want them to say without actually doing anything. We must try to achieve the position that the right hon. Lady describes, without ignoring other opportunities that may present themselves.

I believe that the aid direct scheme proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon could be one of the most explosively good ideas that we could offer Britain. We could twin people in Britain who care about overseas development—and there are a lot of them—in the same way as Jersey does. The island of Jersey has a very small programme. In one of its projects, it contacted a village in Nigeria, near Ibadan, which did not have a potable, reliable water supply. The Jersey Estates put up some money but then asked the people of Jersey whether a team would like to go to the village in Nigeria, assess its needs, come back and order the necessary pumps, pipes and equipment, go back to Nigeria and, with the help of the villagers, build that pump and train the people there to maintain it. Jersey offered the villagers a maintenance service and provided spare parts, where necessary, over a long period.

If we could get a lot of such projects going, with a little assistance from the Department for International Development, people would be able to help others in a practical and sensible way. It would also transform people's attitude to aid. This is all about introducing people, showing them how to do things and helping them do those things over a long period. That could have an explosive effect on producing a culture in this country of wanting to help at the grass roots. It cannot be done in isolation; it must be done together with the bigger projects such as SWAPs, but it contains the kernel of a very important idea.

This is a moral issue which we cannot ignore. All parties in the House now have, through the Bill and other means, a focus on development which I believe will be at the centre of the problems of the 21st century. The real problem of the 21st century will be human migration. Unless we can find a means by which these developing countries can offer a decent life to their people, they will migrate, which will result in friction. The task before us is urgent and needs to be undertaken now.

6.25 pm
Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), the Chairman of the Select Committee on International Development. I do not know whether this is his last chance to speak in a debate in the House on this subject, but, even if it is not, it would be appropriate to pay tribute to his chairmanship of the Committee. I have been privileged to serve on the Committee and have greatly enjoyed doing so.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about migration. He and I agree, and we discussed it recently, that this has been a neglected area as far as international development is concerned. We say that we are giving priority to education or health in certain countries and put a lot of development money into those areas, yet we then take those countries' trained doctors and nurses. I find that difficult to take.

We must look at migration and at reducing poverty through that focus. The Department for International Development is conducting some research on the issue, and I hope that it will continue to do so in the next Parliament. It will need to be considered not only in a development context but across Departments.

I am very pleased to be here for an international development debate—I thought that my career might end before we had one. I do not think that anyone in the Chamber can remember the last one. That shows how much attention the House has devoted to the subject over the years.

The Secretary of State has introduced a Bill that will reduce her powers. My right hon. Friend has almost unlimited powers to use the money voted to her in whatever way is thought appropriate at the time. However, the Government are saying that is not good enough because it has led to some pretty crummy projects, and to corruption and perversions of British aid, such as the Pergau dam affair.

I pay tribute—

Mr. Rowe


Mr. Worthington

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman who is about to intervene on me.

Mr. Rowe

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I call him my hon. Friend because we have served together on the International Development Committee with great pleasure. My point is that what he said is not altogether surprising because, after all, one of the Secretary of State's priorities is good governance.

Mr. Worthington

I will return to that point later. It is a fundamental misunderstanding for the hon. Member for South—West Devon (Mr. Streeter) to say that the Bill reduces the focus on good governance—quite the reverse.

I pay tribute to the Secretary of State with regard to the setting up of DFID and the work that it has done. It was epitomised, for me, by the conference that took place a week last Monday. Those attending included the president of the World Bank, the new head of IMF, the head of the United Nations Development Programme, the head of the United Nations Children's Fund—UNICEF—the Prime Minister of Italy, who is the current chair of the G8, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, the head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. They were there because the Department for International Development wanted a conference on how to reduce child poverty worldwide. The conference was attended not by substitutes, but by top people who recognised the Government's leadership in world development. Wherever one goes in the world, DFID is recognised and respected.

Person after person also commented on the remarkable fact that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had attended a development conference. Yet without Treasury Ministers, Trade Ministers and those from the centre of Government, development will remain, as the Secretary of State said, in the aid box. One of the biggest achievements of the Secretary of State and the Government has been the amount of cross-departmental activity.

One always worries whether a new policy might go wrong. I was afraid that DFID—a small Department—might be marginalised and that its impact would be reduced when it was cut away from the Foreign Office. Quite the reverse has happened. Wherever I have seen it operate, DFID has a status of its own. The Foreign Office has piled in alongside it, or behind it according to circumstances. The Select Committee recently saw wonderful team work in Vietnam and Cambodia. There was no question that the impact was greater.

Ms Oona King

I, too, serve on the Select Committee, and I agree with my hon. Friend. Does he recall that Nelson Mandela also attended last week's conference, joining us by live satellite link? Nelson Mandela has joined the Labour party because, he says, Labour has consistently focused on international development, both as a Government and in many years in opposition.

Mr. Worthington

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I had intended to say that Nelson Mandela was there, but thought that some smart Alec would say that he was not since he appeared on video. I forgot to mention that we had enjoyed his words and inspiration.

Ms King

Not by video, but live.

Mr. Worthington

He attended the conference live.

I must ask whether the reduction of poverty is the same as the increase of wealth. Should we include a clause committing the Secretary of State to concentrating on the poorest people in the poorest countries? I know that in some circumstances, it will be important to direct resources towards poor people in medium-level countries, but the Bill gives great latitude. Should we include a test of whether DFID has concentrated on the deepest poverty in the most difficult places? It may be too difficult to do so.

Clare Short

If we did that, we would be prevented from making reforms in Government systems that are needed to help whole economies to grow to include everyone and facilitate social reform. If we could spend only on the poorest People in the poorest countries, we could not spend on better financial systems, better revenue systems, better regulation of banks and so on. We share my hon. Friend's objective, but such a clause would narrow our powers in such a way as to prevent us from supporting reforms needed for the systematic reduction of poverty.

Mr. Worthington

I fully support what my right hon. Friend is doing about governance and helping to create civil services, police forces and the engines of state. I have no quibble with that. My question is whether we need to ensure that we concentrate on the countries in the deepest poverty—but I have no doubt that we are doing so now.

The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford asked about how DFID, as a development body, interfaces with other organisations. Poverty is the centre of our focus, but if we are working with bodies such as the European Union or some banks, are we open to question about our success in influencing how they use our money? I agree that our success so far in changing our policy and altering other people's behaviour must be continued if we are to make our policy work. Our activities cannot be only bilateral.

Sometimes, DFID runs programmes that I do not see as absolutely central to overseas development aid. For example, money has been spent in central and eastern Europe—not all under DFID control—following the collapse of the iron curtain, as page 146 of the annual report notes. I wonder whether that money is subject to the same poverty focus as the development budget.

Why do clauses 9 and 10, on devolved powers, make no reference to Northern Ireland, when Scotland and Wales are covered? The powers devolved to Northern Ireland are equivalent to those devolved to Scotland. The bodies listed in the schedules to the Bill include tourist authorities and health boards and trusts. Northern Ireland has health boards, even if the tourism body is an all-Ireland body. Why is there no reference to Northern Ireland?

The Select Committee has recently discussed whether it might be handy if the Bill referred to how DFID should be accountable to the House. I have always been puzzled about why we have Wales debates, such as the one held yesterday, or debates on defence and on each of the armed services, when there is no requirement for an international development debate. I am fortunate to be on the Select Committee on International Development, but some less fortunate hon. Members present are not. I can see one Member—the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge)—who is in mourning because she is no longer on the Committee. Westminster Hall has been a good step for debates on international development, but there should be a requirement for a debate on the Floor of the House. That is a modest demand.

We must build our democratic links with DFID, but above all, with the EU to ensure that our views get across there. I am pleased that the World Bank has recently involved parliamentarians much more than it used to. The IMF should also consider such links. That issue is significant. The House does not deal well with on-going matters; we can deal with them if there is a Bill, but, as we have heard, it is 21 years since a measure such as this was introduced. It is important to increase accountability.

The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford referred to humanitarian principles. We have received extremely good lobbying material on that subject, which stresses the importance of even-handedness. That is the difference between life and death for many people. In the aid world, if one is seen as part of the enemy, lives are lost. The Red Cross has built its reputation on never being part of the enemy—one receives assistance regardless of ethnicity and so on. I support that. Humanitarian aid must be seen to be given dispassionately on grounds of need.

There is, however, another side. During our visit to Albania and Macedonia, we were struck by the fact that the armed forces put up the camps with incredible efficiency, as no other body could have done. That had to be done; otherwise, the consequences for those poor people who were fleeing would have been horrific. However, people in the aid agencies pointed out to me that it was a dangerous precedent for combat troops to put up such camps, and that we had to get the army out of that situation.

That is not the only example. One of the purposes of the proposed European defence force—of which I approve—is to give humanitarian assistance. In the past, I have been critical when world or NATO resources were available—especially for heavy lift—but people starved and did not receive aid because we were unable to get aid workers to them. I recognise the importance of humanitarian principles, but I do not want to draw their definition so tightly as to rule out the use of military forces to get aid to people.

The most recent case was in Mozambique, where our performance was superb, but why could not our military helicopters get there as quickly as possible? Such issues are at the boundaries of that humanitarian debate, and sometimes we have to use military resources—perhaps we should use them more often.

Mr. Wells

Does the hon. Gentleman remember meeting General Reith in Albania? He was the first NATO general to be given humanitarian responsibilities—when NATO was the belligerent force against Serbia over Kosovo. Surely, in that situation, the use of the word "humanitarian" by the military is a contradiction in terms. Humanitarian assistance from armed forces is most welcome, but those forces must be subordinate to impartial, aid-giving humanitarian organisations.

Mr. Worthington

The hon. Gentleman illustrates the point that we both make: the issue is not simple. For example, in Sierra Leone, there was no state and no army; it is impossible to reduce poverty without police forces and armies—without state institutions. By and large, the aid we give in that country is not humanitarian, but help with the construction of an army. I have seen that work, and I believe that it is right, because it is crucial to the recovery of that country and the ending of poverty there. The boundary between humanitarian and other issues seems simple, but it is not.

My final point might be for the Standing Committee rather than this debate, but the Under-Secretary might want to address it when he sums up. I am delighted to see him in his new position—his career plan is intriguing.

We are committed to the reduction of poverty, but I have some concerns about people who are involved with drugs. It is right for us to try to stop the supply of illegitimate drugs and involvement with them. Such projects are not likely to reduce poverty in the first instance. For example, I visited Bangladesh with other hon. Members to examine AIDS issues. There is no doubt that girls in the brothels are better off than if they had remained in their villages—that is why they had left the villages. It is right that we should try to return them to an orthodox life, but it might be difficult to claim that what we were doing was poverty reduction.

Dr. Tonge

I suspect that the girls in the brothel were better off as regards catching AIDS than the girls in the village, but that otherwise they would have preferred to be in the village.

Mr. Worthington

They might have preferred to be in the village, but they were financially better off by moving—that is why they did so. However, I raise the matter as an example of the focus on poverty.

Clare Short

Ill health makes people poor; they cannot work but they have to pay for drugs and treatments. HIV-AIDS causes a big growth of poverty; there is lower life expectancy and loss of work, and many people to care for. Interventions to reduce the spread of that disease prevent poverty. That is permitted and encouraged under this measure—there is no question about that.

Mr. Worthington

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that point. We need to test all the points. Perhaps the drugs example is a better one. Our motive in trying to stop involvement in drugs in one country might be because of the poverty of people elsewhere. However, anti-drugs initiatives in a country should not be seen as impermissible just because they did not directly attack poverty there. We should test such points in Committee.

Clare Short

I shall try to stop intervening from now on.

In order to stop the growing of drugs in Afghanistan, a UN drugs agency paid people not to grow them, so even more growing took place in the surrounding area. Such interventions would not be permitted under the Bill. However, an intervention to help people who grow drugs because they are so poor that they have access neither to legitimate crops nor to a better legitimate life would be permitted—to enable them to have access to crops, so that their children could receive schooling and health care. Surely, that is where we should draw the dividing line. We could throw large amounts of the development budget at anti-drugs initiatives that were not well thought through and brought no help to poor people. That would not be permitted under the Bill. That is where we are trying to draw the line.

Mr. Worthington

Once again, I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. That shows that we are bringing ideology into development by focusing on poverty. It is very important to test our development programme against a set of principles. Countries that fail to have respectable principles in their development programmes do not run good ones. We must have a simple clarion call for poverty reduction. That is what the Bill represents, which is why I support it so enthusiastically.

6.50 pm
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

I, too, warmly welcome the Bill, as I have welcomed the two White Papers on international development that have been published in the past four years. The House should congratulate the Government and the Secretary of State on a very proud record. As has been said, it is more than 20 years since a Bill on international development was introduced. This is an almost unprecedented happening.

I agree with the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) that it is very sad that we have not had any lengthy debate on development issues, but, as spokesperson for the alternative Opposition, that is almost all on which I agree with him. In an hour-long speech, he spent at least 15 minutes discussing the fact that he did not have enough time for debate. Such comments always seem to be a total waste of time, but Conservative Members will, no doubt, spend another three quarters of an hour later this evening discussing why they do not have enough time for debate.

So devoid of ideas is the Conservative party that the hon. Gentleman could manage to spend only 10 minutes on Tory policy. He simply spent the rest of the time in a slanging match which had nothing whatever to do with the Bill. It was a pretty poor performance, and I am delighted that he is now back in his place to hear me say that.

I understand that this is a procedural Bill, and, in that sense, it is a bit grey. I was excited when I heard that it had been published because I thought that it would deal with matters such as bribery, as the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) suggested, and with tied aid and AIDS. I thought that it would be colourful, but, as I said, it is a bit grey and procedural. Nevertheless, it is still very interesting, and with the indulgence of the House, I should like to address the issues that it raises. I shall spend 10 minutes or so going through it, picking up some of the points about which I feel strongly and getting a few things off my chest.

The Secretary of State said that the Bill was necessary to ensure that aid would not be given at the whim of a future Secretary of State. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) said that that was the case and that the Secretary of State was devolving responsibility. We have heard about the awful things that have happened when Secretaries of State have taken too wide a brief on aid in the past, and there have been disasters such as the Pergau dam, but why then does clause 1(3) state: 'sustainable development' includes any development that is, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, prudent"? The first amendment tabled must deal with that phrase. If we are to free ourselves from the Secretary of State's whims, we must not allow the phrase, in the opinion of the Secretary of State to be used, and I should like that matter to be clarified, but perhaps we can explore it in Committee. The inclusion of that phrase is dangerous because—although I suspect that it will be a long time before there is a change of flavour—how can we stop future Secretaries of State doing all sorts of terrible things in the name of development if it remains on the statute book?

I immediately spotted the fact that the declaration on the front of the Bill states that all its provisions are compatible with the European convention on human rights. Therefore, I have a difficulty with clause 2 on aid for overseas territories. First, on a side issue, if the overseas territories are part of the United Kingdom, I cannot understand why the aid that they need from this country has to come from the Department for International Development. If they have opted to stay part of this country, surely the aid should come from the education or health budgets, or wherever, not from DFID. However, if the Department is to give them aid and they call themselves overseas territories, we must insist that, as a condition of that aid, they uphold the international agreements that we uphold, such as the European convention on human rights.

There has been an enormous spat in the press and other media during the past few months about the refusal of some overseas territories to accept homosexual rights, with which I have been very much involved. Those territories simply must understand that they cannot have it both ways—either they are part of this country and comply with our international agreements, and we will help them, or they become independent. We should make that clear, and the Bill should do so, too.

On the thorny subject of humanitarian assistance, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford called for a definition of such assistance. We must consider the need for humanitarian aid, but I should prefer to consider who causes the need for such aid. We should separate natural disasters from those that are caused, with whatever justification, by the Ministry of Defence or NATO. Should the Department for International Development pick up those bills either in full or in part? If humanitarian aid is needed as a result of military action to which this country has partly or wholly contributed, and if we are to stick to the poverty focus, the humanitarian aid should come from and be paid for by a Department other than DFID. I emphasise that the poverty focus is all-important.

A difficult issue is raised in clause 5, which I believe is intended to deal with what could be termed "tied aid". Clarification is needed because clause 5(1) refers to assistance in any form or of any nature, including … financial or technical assistance". If that is linked with know-how, such as personal training or the provision of the results of research and so on, is that not tied aid?

Clare Short


Dr. Tonge

It is not. Well, I need clarification on the issue, and I am sure that the Under-Secretary will provide it.

I want to refer to indirect offset schemes—mysterious things that I heard of only a few weeks ago at a meeting in Portcullis House. The Secretary of State kindly wrote to me on the subject, but I still do not understand under which category they come. I should like an assurance that the Government would never become involved with such schemes, because they tie the supplying country to the requesting country in an odd way. We need clarification on that issue.

I shall move on, under my agenda, to clause 13. I welcome the support for commonwealth scholarships—a wonderful scheme. About 95 per cent. of the participants in those scholarships return to their country of origin to work. They are currently nominated only by their Governments, however, so people who are part of significant dissident opposition in their country have a serious problem. For example, how will people who oppose the Zimbabwean Government ever have access to Commonwealth scholarships? When I was in southern Sudan, I was repeatedly told that people wanted Commonwealth scholarships, but could not obtain them because the Government of Sudan would not nominate them. Can we have an assurance that that will change?

Clare Short

Because the hon. Lady has asked parliamentary questions, she will know that we asked the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission to carry out a review so that the focus on development and poverty was central to its efforts. Members of elites often apply for scholarships, but they can obtain other forms of education if they are not nominated for one of those scholarships. The commission has done an extremely good job and we are in the process of implementing many of its recommendations. For the very reason that the hon. Lady has given, it recommended that nomination through Governments should not be the only means of gaining such scholarships. I intend to implement that recommendation.

Dr. Tonge

I thank the Secretary of State for clarifying that point. I know that it is important to many members of the Select Committee.

I will not go into detail on the subject of our contribution to European Union aid. We have heard a lot about that and the Liberal Democrats agree with what has been said. I shall never forget the day when I sat down with a glass of wine and looked at the Court of Auditors report on the delivery of aid. I expected to go to sleep very rapidly, but I got through half a bottle of wine and got more and more angry. I could not sleep because the report outlined the appalling delays that had occurred in the delivery of European Union aid. I am delighted by the changes that have taken place. However, as members of the Select Committee have said, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, this time next year. Will the Commissioners have taken the recommendations on board and implemented the changes? I hope that they do, because it is important that we maintain the poverty focus.

I appreciate that there are very poor people in middle-income countries, and we want to help them. That is only right and proper. However, we must not use aid for political purposes as the European Union has done.

Co-ordination between Departments is very close to my heart. I remember early in this Parliament when I was a new Member asking the Secretary of State whether the aims of her wonderful White Paper on development were supported by other Departments. I received a blistering response. It would have reduced me to jelly if I were not such a tough old bird. The reply was as good as anything that the hon. Member for South-West Devon gets.

I have wondered over the past four years, however, just how much Departments support the aims of other Departments' White Papers. For example, if, as is stated in the White Paper, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office supports poverty reduction and conflict prevention, why have we had no arms control Bill or a register of—or control over—arms brokers? They contribute so much to poverty in this world.

If the Department of Trade and Industry wants poverty reduction, which it supported in the White Paper on development, why is it still considering export credit guarantees for the Ilisu dam, which will throw 78,000 people into poverty?

Mr. Wells

The hon. Lady may recall that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said that he was minded to approve the issue of export credit guarantees to Balfour Beatty, which will be one of the contractors in the building of the Ilisu dam. The Select Committee has asked to see the advice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Department of Trade and Industry that gave rise to that extraordinary statement, but the Foreign Office is refusing to show that advice to the Committee. Does the hon. Lady think that it has something to hide and that its advice on humanitarian matters is overridden by political considerations?

Dr. Tonge

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who is the Chairman of the Select Committee. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office must have something to hide. Why do Departments have to face in two directions? They support the glorious and virtuous aims of the White Papers on development and globalisation, but they cannot implement such measures in their own Departments.

In a sense, the hon. Gentleman interrupted my flow, but he will be glad to hear that I have even more questions beginning with the word "why". The Home Office cannot cope with asylum seekers and we know that it is not coping. We also know that people migrate because they are unhappy, poor and want better lives, or are being persecuted, so why are we not putting more resources into aid and development to stop the flow of asylum seekers? Why do we not receive the Home Office's support for that?

If the Prime Minister wants poverty reduction and conflict prevention, why does he not express his total disapproval of Plan Colombia, which is being perpetrated on that tortured country by the United States of America? Why does he not protest at the United States' withdrawal of funds from non-governmental organisations that support abortion in some of their programmes? Why does he support the USA by staying silent on these issues? Why, why, why?

To end on a rather depressing note, I sometimes get the feeling that the Department for International Development takes one big step forward and then the other Departments take two steps back. That is a difficult situation in which to work. Where is the joined-up government about which we have heard so often?

7.7 pm

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

I am delighted to participate in this debate. Like almost all the Members who have spoken, I welcome the Bill. I congratulate my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for International Development and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the emphasis that they have put on international development since 1997.

One result has been the focus in my constituency on these issues. More than 2,000 people are in contact with me and write to me about international development. Many churches and voluntary organisations in Dumbarton, Helensburgh, Alexandria and Balloch communicate with me as a direct result of the Government's White Paper. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Scotland Office, when he was a Minister at the Department for International Development, attended a meeting in my constituency a year ago that more than 200 people attended. I congratulate the Government on their approach, and organisations such as Jubilee 2000 on their good work in bringing the issue to the fore at civic level. That gives the lie to the notion that people are disengaging from politics; it is gratifying that people are engaged.

If I have one message for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, it is that at the next election, the Government should commit themselves on a phased basis to the 0.7 per cent. target that the United Nations has set. However, if we aspire to more, that will be very popular throughout the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) has already mentioned the conference on international action against child poverty that took place more than a week ago, which Nelson Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel, attended. I commend my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Chancellor on the practical steps that they have taken and on their sheer concern for the many millions of the world's children whose existence is on a knife edge. The conference dealt with those issues and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor was asked why the focus was now on children.

Children are obviously an integral part of any Government's strategy. We can all support the development targets of providing universal primary education and reducing infant mortality by two thirds by 2015, when it is estimated that half the people in the world will live in poverty. When we look at the statistics, we see how important it is to reduce infant mortality. Some 30,000 children die needlessly every day, 7 million die before their first birthday and 10 million die before their fifth birthday, all for the lack of access to clean water, proper sanitation and basic medicines. Malaria and tuberculosis are thought to kill 8 million children a year. It is vital to reduce infant mortality by the target rate of two thirds.

I also welcome as a core component of the Bill the establishment of poverty reduction strategies. I commend the Government for the way in which the Bill has been formulated. There is a simplicity to it, which means that there is more that they can do to focus on those strategies. However, trade with poor countries is the key. Oxfam recently described access to the markets as being a matter of life and death for such countries. Trade barriers cost poor countries nearly £500 billion a year, which is 14 times what they receive in overseas development assistance. It is important to focus on that. Justin Forsyth of Oxfam said: Rich countries continue to stuff subsidies worth around £200 million a year into their agricultural export industries, then ignore the crisis they cause by dumping cheap food into poor markets. That practice is very much alive in our country and Europe—foot and mouth is an example of its results—and it affects poor countries.

The World Trade Organisation connects developing markets with the global network. However, there is not always equal access to it. For example, the United States has 250 permanent delegates, but the 35 poorest countries have none. We must address that inequality. We should tell the WTO—as I am sure my right hon. Friend has done—that the poverty reduction strategy should also he one of its main aims.

Many countries have been mentioned. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) referred to Peru, which I have visited four or five times in the past decade or so. Some hon. Members suggested that money should be channelled to Governments and not to organisations on the ground. We knew when Fujimori came to office that his Government would be corrupt. If money had not been given to the voluntary organisations and NGOs, no progress would have been made in the barrios because there was a complete disengagement of Government and communities. Organisations such as the Columban Fathers, a missionary group, and its sisters helped to implement the poverty reduction strategy in the barrios. The Bill's measures dealing with that matter are important.

My right hon. Friend mentioned countries with alternative strategies for eliminating drugs. A couple of weeks ago, I attended an international drugs conference in Bolivia. I was taken to the Chapare region to see what the Government described as the total elimination of drugs in that area. We went to a military base, which we were not allowed to leave because 30,000 campesinos were outside protesting against us. The Government stated that they had eliminated the coca crop, but there was nothing for those people to work on. Development strategies, such as banana crops, are lauded as alternatives, but there is only one banana crop a year. The coca crop is harvested four times a year and the country does not have suitable access for selling bananas abroad.

We need to understand the complexity of alternative development strategies, which need to encompass health, education and economic issues. We will get nowhere if all we do is engage in rhetoric and produce hot air. We need to ensure that we implement better policies for the people of such regions. That is one message for my right hon. Friend, and I am delighted to hear her say that such a strategy is envisaged.

I have also visited Zimbabwe in the past few years, before the unrest and the problems with Mugabe. I saw for myself what effect the World Bank's policies and structural adjustment programmes were having. There was the economic cream at the top and a void at the bottom. Work in such areas is extremely important. I saw the good work that was being carried out by organisations such as Oxfam. It was putting what it called "Blair toilets" into the countryside and, at a stroke, ensuring proper sanitation for those communities. Although the initiative was developed by Oxfam, it was supported at a local level by many people in different areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie asked about strategies in central and eastern European countries. I was in Romania just after the revolution and recall the great dawning of a new age. People thought that democracy would improve matters and that there would be economic stability. Sadly, that has not happened. It is necessary to focus poverty reduction strategies on those areas. Flexibility is important, especially if we want them to join the wider body of the EU. We need to help them to develop.

The final objective of the international development target was to provide universal primary education. The best anti-poverty strategy is education, which is a precondition of progress in both personal and national terms. We must remember that 130 million children—two thirds of whom are girls—do not attend primary school. Nearly half of all African children and a quarter of children in south and west Asia have been denied that fundamental right. Some 900 million children over the age of 15 are illiterate—that is one sixth of the world population.

I taught for many years in what some people might disparagingly call a bog-standard comprehensive school. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who?"] I shall not name them, but they know who they are. In that school, we had a gifted music teacher. Instead of the kids throwing stones at each other before school, we looked across the wasteland and saw young children with violin and trombone cases and drum kits coming to school. That lifted their aspirations and the spirit of the community. It energised the young children and the community, and they felt part of society. Of the children whom I knew, I am pleased to say that one is a world-famous opera singer and another is in a national orchestra in London. That is what hope and ambition did for that area, and it reflects what education means all over the world.

The latter part of my wife's educational professional life was spent as a special needs teacher, largely dealing with children who had been written off. When she eventually got through the programme with them, she saw a transformation in them and in their parents. There was a light in their eye and a spring in their step. She has "thank you" letters from parents for bringing their children on. That progress has been accompanied by a transformation in the children's attitude and behaviour. They are no longer excluded from school or society. We should have those same aspirations for the many millions of young children in the world to whom we can bring hope.

I welcome the recent Government proposals and I particularly welcome the new tax incentives which would accelerate research on AIDS, TB and malaria, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced only a couple of weeks ago. I also welcome the purchase fund, which provides a credible commitment to create a market for current and future treatments in developing countries through strong incentives to develop and deliver affordable treatments. When we remember the current case in Pretoria of the pharmaceutical companies against the South African Government, it becomes obvious that it is important that we develop such strategies.

Africa must be a focus for us. Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel said that Africa was a problem, but will now be part of the solution. In Africa, 25 per cent. of pregnant women die from AIDS; in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana, 25 per cent. of the population have AIDS; 24 million Africans have AIDS and 50 per cent. of children are expected to die by the age of 15. When we consider that, we realise the need for urgent action in that continent.

The Secretary of State has two challenges. I agree with the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) that the first is to change the culture of Government to ensure that if poverty reduction strategies are to be achieved, poverty reduction must be at the heart of every Department. We need a whole-Government approach. I have previously mentioned agriculture; poverty reduction needs to be at the heart of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if we are to get away from the obsession with cheap food. I have mentioned drugs; poverty reduction needs to be at the heart of the Cabinet Office and, in relation to crime, at the Home Office, if it is to be achieved. Not least, it must be at the heart of the Department of Health, if we are to tackle AIDS and the other infectious diseases which bedevil much of the world. That culture is there for the Secretary of State to change. I commend her for her work in the past, but she still has an awful lot to do.

The second issue is the challenge to the rest of the world. Today, I read in a magazine sent to me by a development group a comment by the former President of Chile, Patricio Aylwin, who came to office immediately after the Pinochet regime. I, for one, think that he did a tremendous job in healing the country and establishing a civic Government again. What he wrote about the market relates to what I said earlier. The article says:

By its very nature the market tends to be unequal. In order for it to be a just system all those who take part within the system—employers, workers, transnational corporations and small and medium sized businesses—would have to participate on conditions of equality. We do not have that equality today, which is why we have gone backwards since the 1995 Copenhagen social summit. At least 80 countries have been shown to have a lower per capita income today than in 1995. We have gone backwards—the number of people in poverty in Latin America has grown has grown from 200 million to 224 million in those five short years. Those challenges face us in future. However, I am certainly hopeful about the actions of the Government and the achievements of the conference on international action against child poverty.

To conclude, Graca Machel said: Africa is the biggest challenge. But now Africa is offering solutions through the Millennium Africa plan. Graca Machel said that Africa had the resources, knowledge and capacity to solve the problems. She said: We Africans were the problem, but we are now part of the solution. We have to work with Africans and others to be part of that solution and to achieve a more decent and humanitarian society in the 21st century.

7.24 pm
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)

This is likely to be my last debate, but perhaps I will be allowed to take part in the Adjournment debate prior to dissolution, or something of that kind. Given the record, this is certainly my last opportunity to debate international development on the Floor of the House. Having sat through our debate, I have found it extraordinarily constructive. There has not been a speech that has not added something to our knowledge and challenged us. It is a particular pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall),

May I take hon. Members on a journey to a foreign land—the United Kingdom at the end of the next Government's four years in office? Let us look for a moment at Dartmoor, which, as a consequence of our extraordinary pursuit of food at prices which mean that virtually no producer can make a profit, may well end up with every single wild animal on it slaughtered—if we can achieve the skill to do that with or without hounds. Fortunately, however, all will be well, because an alternative use for Dartmoor will be found. Whichever party wins the election, as part of the obscene competition between those on the Front Benches to lock up as many citizens or non-citizens of this country as possible—whether increasing numbers of young people or refugees from overseas—it will be able to turn all of Dartmoor into a form of prison camp.

In our debate, it has been said that the number of refugees is bound to continue growing. As the disparity in wealth between the rich world and the poor continues to increase, so will the number of refugees seeking a better life. Indeed, as the number of conflicts increases, so too will the number of people seeking life itself. We must have a much better strategy for dealing with that than we have at the moment. There is an extraordinary paradox: we devote enormous resources and tremendous effort to preventing large numbers of people coming here from overseas, while at the same time encouraging private agencies to rush around overseas finding foreigners to come and work here. We have not got that right at all; the only possible solution, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) said in his excellent speech, is to create the conditions in the countries from which people come here to make them want to stay. There are not many people who would want to leave their home, relatives and the country with which they are familiar if the conditions there were improved.

The thrust of international development is therefore essential. May I suggest to the Under-Secretary of State for International Development a simple little strategy? It might be worth challenging all British citizens to consider what 0.7 per cent. of their annual income buys. To most people, that is just a figure. If they sat down and looked at their annual budget and saw what 0.7 per cent. bought, there might be a slight change in the public's general attitude to this important issue.

It is hugely important to realise that we cannot achieve any of the targets that we have set ourselves alone. I very much welcome the emphasis that the Department is placing on the development of partnerships. As every part of the globe assembles into larger groupings, whether it be the Association of South-East Asian Nations, the emerging groupings in southern Africa—which appear to overlap quite a lot—the North American Free Trade Agreement, or the European Union, it is essential that we make those partnerships work and use our leverage to obtain much better productivity from them. It is obscene that the EU aid programme works so badly; defending it is one of the biggest single difficulties for those of us who approve of our EU membership. There is no reason whatever why that extraordinary bureaucracy should be allowed to get away with it.

Another great issue is demography. The youthfulness of the world's population is extraordinary. An extreme example is Cambodia, where 46 per cent. of the population is under 15. It may be an awful comment on Pol Pot to say that just 2 per cent. of the population is over 65, but Cambodia is by no means alone. The danger for such countries is that there is about to be an explosion in the numbers of young people at their most sexually active, with no foreseeable income and no livelihood to earn.

If that is not a recipe for instability, I do not know what is, but it is also a tremendous opportunity. The world is rent with conflicts which have their roots in earlier generations. If we can provide those young people with education and some kind of opportunity, their generation may be able to shed the age-old hostilities and make something of their countries.

It is enormously important to give young people a voice. That is not the easiest thing to do. It has taken me four or five years to assist the United Kingdom Youth Parliament for people under 18 to come into being. It has been an uphill struggle to get anyone interested in it at all. We speak all the time about listening to the voices of young people, but that is only just beginning to happen, and it is happening mostly through organisations that like to speak for them. We need to do a great deal more in all countries to assist young people's voices to be constructively heard. I commend the work that the Save the Children Fund is doing in Zimbabwe, for example, where it is collecting and publishing children's views. Beyond that, however, the project is not organised, which is hardly surprising.

We need to recall the horror of children being used not only as soldiers, but as torturers. One of the most awful moments in our recent visit to Cambodia was going to the genocide museum and hearing that, as a matter of policy, Pol Pot had used eight to 15year-olds to carry out the torture of adults. What is so terrible is that those 35-year-olds, or whatever age they are now, are out there in the villages, having exercised the most obscene cruelty for four or five of their most impressionable years, never having had a chance to talk through the experience with anyone, and not having the faintest idea of how to handle the trauma, which must be huge. I understand that the level of violence in the villages is very high. Such misuse of children is appalling.

One of the groups that I want to bring to the Minister's attention—as if he needed me to—are orphans. There are said to be 23 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa. In Zimbabwe, which I visited last October because my wife was working there, out of a population of 13 million, 1 million are orphans. Orphans are, by definition, the least regarded, poorest and most likely to be exploited group of children on earth. There will be exceptions, of course, and in Africa particularly there has been great hope that the long-established family structure would absorb orphans, but in most sub-Saharan African countries the capacity of the family network to absorb any more orphans has been exhausted. Orphans as a group need to be more visible and to be treated with respect. They need opportunity and a voice.

By and large, the priorities of the Department for International Development are fine. It is right that the Department should seek to influence and exert leverage on Governments, but there is a danger that resources will be wasted on corrupt or semi-corrupt Governments. If we are not careful, we shall return to the bad old days when such Governments exercised great ingenuity in mis-spending the resources that we provided. I know that the Secretary of State is aware of the danger.

A further danger, especially in the sector-wide approach, is the danger of cutting off innovative pioneering projects. Although there is a huge advantage in using our relatively small aid budget to achieve maximum leverage, it is important that we do not inhibit the emergence of innovative projects.

We should take a serious look at some of our longest-term customers, so to speak. Nepal, for example, has had a remarkable amount of aid per head poured into it. It is a country with enormous difficulties, starting with its topography. I remember going there and meeting a Member of Parliament. I asked how long it took him to get to his constituency, and he replied that it took 48 hours, followed by a four-day walk after the road ran out.

Nepal is not an easy country, but my understanding is that, if anything, it is going backwards, despite all our aid, partly because, as the hon. Member for Dumbarton pointed out, the Maoists are an ever-growing menace—a problem originating primarily from a well intentioned effort to stop people growing drugs without providing them with alternative sources of income. The Department needs to consider how we should handle long-term aid recipient countries that show no improvement. That is a real challenge.

We have heard about the difficulty of defining and reaching the poorest of the poor. As my colleagues on the Select Committee know only too well, I believe that the disabled are among the poorest of the poor worldwide, and it is extraordinarily difficult to create large programmes for them, because they are, by definition, scattered across the population. I am pleased that the Department has published a strategy paper for reaching the disabled, and I hope that more work will be done for them, especially preventive work.

There is clear evidence that early intervention can prevent the development of deafness, blindness and other disabilities very cheaply. We must consider the provision of professionals such as audiologists and optometrists, who are relatively cheap to train, but who are in such short supply that large numbers of children are not recognised as being in danger of going deaf or blind.

Cambodia was a worrying and depressing country to visit, although it is a lovely country, and much good work is being done. We started out by meeting aid workers who described the projects and the work being done for people who had very small holdings, or holdings that were on such poor land that they could not sustain a family; then we went to the villages, spoke to the people there and discovered that 40 per cent. of them had no land at all. In a sense, our projects were aimed at a level above the poorest. That was disturbing.

We must stop robbing the poor of their key resource: people. I raised the matter with the Secretary of State for Health on the Floor of the House, and he pointed out that the national health service has good guidelines about not recruiting people from overseas, but every trust in the country, in extremis, draws on the people provided by agencies, and the agencies are in no way inhibited by such guidance.

I am always worried by the fact that students from the poorest countries have to pay the full whack of overseas student rates. That is nonsense; it cannot be right. Even if we cannot rebate students' fees before they arrive, could not we do so if they return to their own countries? That seems a perfectly sensible approach.

It is the poor who hate corruption most and suffer from it most. It is dreadful to hear representatives of large British companies telling the International Development Committee that if the culture of the country demands it, the payment of small sums to accelerate business is not corrupt. That is nonsense and we must ensure that our behaviour improves. Wherever we go, it is the poor who tell us that they want to get corruption out of the system. For example, as far as I can see, the land distribution system in Cambodia is wholly corrupt. Nominally, all land belongs to the Government, but it is given away to anyone who chooses to pay for it and the poorest people have nothing. In one village, we discovered that the headman was taking a cut and letting the poorest people there go down the Swannee.

We must also take seriously the corruption of the election process in developed countries. There is something obscene about the fact that it costs $25 million to become an American Senator. There is, too, something utterly obscene about the way in which even this country's systems are in danger of being distorted by big givers. It is a real disease. In some countries, the tradition of Members of Parliament distributing largesse to their constituents is taken for granted, but it is wrong of us to point a finger when they then try to recoup the huge costs of becoming elected.

I am a great admirer of non-governmental organisations, which have made a wonderful, remarkable and indispensable contribution to worldwide development. However, I initiated a Westminster Hall debate on their accountability, which must be addressed. Of course, some of the better NGOs are starting to deal with that issue themselves, but it is worrying that the developing world is full of expensive four-wheel drive vehicles that take one to places where the health workers cannot afford a bicycle. I am anxious that many NGOs are accountable only to their founders, to self-perpetuating committees or to an ethos or motive that may or may not be wholly respectable. We must encourage the NGO movement to make itself thoroughly accountable.

I hope that, as a part of international co-operation, we can persuade other countries, including some of the biggest donor countries in the world, to reconsider and follow more closely what Britain is trying to do. In other words, they should consider how to reduce the proportion of their aid budgets that flows back to them in salaries paid to white northern professionals, rather than to the southern professionals who need such assistance so much.

7.44 pm
Barbara Follett (Stevenage)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important and long-overdue debate. I am also glad to follow the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe). I am sorry that he will not continue to serve on the International Development Committee; he has made an invaluable contribution, his understanding of the issues is huge, and he will be much missed.

Having been a member of the International Development Committee since 1997, I have had the privilege of scrutinising the workings of the first Department for International Development to be introduced by the United Kingdom since its inception. I am glad that time has been found for the Bill in the last month of this Parliament, as it entrenches the Department' s poverty-focused approach and ensures that the UK's international aid contributions go to those who need them most—the poor. In combination with the ground-breaking work on debt relief done by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for International Development and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that approach puts Britain at the forefront of the fight to reduce global inequality.

The Bill is based on another first: Britain's first-ever White Paper on international development, which was produced by the Department within months of its creation. The White Paper committed the Government to introducing new legislation, as the provisions of the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980 were not sufficiently poverty focused. As someone who has spent much of her life working among the poor of Africa, I welcome that focus unreservedly. However, it is interesting to note that the Bill, whose explicit focus is poverty, does not provide a definition of that concept.

I remember people arguing about that definition when I worked in South Africa in the 1960s. In Britain in the 1960s and 1970s, Professor Peter Townsend contributed hugely to that debate. I realise that the lack of such a definition gives my tight hon. Friend the Secretary of State greater discretion and flexibility, but I am concerned that it could allow a less committed Secretary of State to dilute the Department's poverty focus. I would not like that to happen. Will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary consider carefully in Committee how that might be remedied?

Like the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), I am concerned that, while 25 or 30 per cent. of the United Kingdom's aid budget is being channelled through the European Union, the House does not have the ability to ensure that that money is being spent on poverty-focused projects. Even more important, we do not have the ability to ensure that it is being spent at all, as the hon. Gentleman made clear. Obviously, that arrangement could undermine the UK's poverty-focused programmes and I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to redouble her already formidable efforts to reform the European Community's development assistance programme, which has the capacity to do great good. I know that she will do all she can to ensure that it also has the necessary ability and the will.

Another definition that is absent from the Bill is that of humanitarian aid, as the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford pointed out. Like him, I feel that that lack should be remedied and should have been influenced by a report published by the Overseas Development Institute. The report compares humanitarian aid agencies to the ambulance men of the world. As it graphically illustrates, we do not expect ambulance men to decide which victims, if any, were involved in a car crash or who was responsible for it; we want them to help anyone who was injured. The job of deciding who was responsible is for the police and the law. In international terms, responsibility lies with the UN and other international bodies and agencies, such as jurists and courts. I believe that a definition would help them to do their job.

The poverty focus of the Bill and of the Department should reassure those who are especially concerned about the welfare of women and children. They will benefit from poverty-focused aid, as they make up 70 per cent. of the world's 1.3 billion poorest people. Women also account for two thirds of the world's 1 billion adults who cannot read or write, and girls account for 200 million of the world's children who will never get the chance to go to school. A poverty-focused Department with poverty-focused programmes cannot but help them. They are the poorest of the poor—the people whom we aim to help.

Despite my right hon. Friend's warning about her resistance to special pleading, I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), will tempt fate by ending with some special pleading for Africa, especially for the 24.5 million men, women and children on that continent who suffer from HIV-AIDS. Most of those people are desperately poor, as are most of the towns and countries in which they live. Surely such a special case merits special measures. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, HIV-AIDS is a factor in increasing poverty.

In South Africa, 1,500 people are infected with HIV-AIDS every day and 4 million people already have the disease. The United Nations estimates that the disease will take 17 per cent. off the country's GDP by 2010.

In Malawi, more than a third of the teachers are infected with HIV-AIDS. The country's future and that of its children do not bear thinking about. Education is the way out of poverty, but what will people do without teachers? Malawi is not a solitary case; a similar percentage of teachers are infected in Zambia.

I welcome the Bill, just as I welcomed the creation of the Department for International Development in 1997. I look forward to welcoming more aid for Africa and its millions of HIV-AIDS sufferers. As Graca Machel said, Africa is the biggest challenge. I know that we are up to it.

7.52 pm
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

The hon. Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett) was right to speak about Africa, where it is difficult to see any bright spots. It is in serious danger of becoming a lost continent.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate, not least because I am vice-chairman of the all-party group on overseas development. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) for his comments about my role as a junior Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office when it was responsible for the then Overseas Development Administration. I worked there with my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Chalker of Wallasey.

At the beginning of the 21st century, one of our greatest challenges is the enormous number of people who live in extreme, grinding, unremitting poverty. The World Bank estimates that more than 1 billion of our fellow citizens live on less than $1 a day. No genuine progress has been made in reducing that number in the past 10 years.

Television brings us flashes of the worst humanitarian disasters, such as flooding in Mozambique, hurricanes in central America, genocide in the Balkans, starvation in the horn of Africa, the impact of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, and earthquakes in India. However, it does not adequately describe or reflect the desperate daily drudgery of so many of our fellow citizens. Poverty, poor health and desperation make up the lives of many people.

The Bill is unobjectionable. The Library briefing on it states: The Bill does not substantially alter the basis for giving assistance. The White Paper that was published in November 1997 states: All of the actions proposed in the White Paper can be put in place under the existing Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980. All the Government's objectives could therefore be achieved under that measure, which was steered through the House by my predecessor as Member of Parliament for Banbury, Sir Neil Marten. I hope that I am not being uncharacteristically churlish if I say that the Bill is unnecessary and that perhaps it constitutes pre-election window dressing, which tries to give the impression that more has been achieved than is genuinely the case.

No reasonable person would quarrel with the objectives in the more recent White Paper, ' Eliminating World Poverty: Making Globalisation Work for the Poor". They include: working with others to reduce poverty systematically; promoting effective Governments and efficient markets; investing in people; sharing skills and knowledge; harnessing private finance; ensuring that gains from trade are made for developing countries; tackling global environmental problems; using development assistance more effectively; and strengthening a more open and accountable international system in which poor people and countries have a more effective voice. It would be surprising if any person of good will did not fully support those objectives. However, we do not need the Bill to achieve them. I shall make some comments about the way in which we can make progress on them.

How much money does the Treasury make available to the Department for International Development? How large is the United Kingdom aid budget? Let us consider the figures for 1999, the last year for which they are available. In that year, the UK was the fifth largest cash donor country in the world after Japan, the United States, France and Germany. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development defines overseas development assistance as a percentage of gross national product. Sadly, when ranked in those terms, the UK is towards the bottom of the list. Current UK spending on overseas aid is approximately a quarter of 1 per cent. of our GNP. As my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) said in his excellent contribution, that is a tiny amount.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Chris Mullin)

The figure was a quarter of 1 per cent. when the Conservative party left office; it is now approximately 0.29 per cent. and rising. I do not suggest that that is acceptable, but the figure was decreasing and is now increasing under this Government.

Mr. Baldry

I shall not quibble, but the Library briefing for the debate shows a reasonably flat line between 1979 and today. My point is addressed as much to those on the Conservative Front Bench as to the Government. The figure is pathetic by any standards.

The Government say that they hope to increase spending on development aid to approximately a third of 1 per cent. of GNP by 2004, which is well into the second half of the next Parliament. Although the Government have said that they will continue to work towards the target of 0.7 per cent. set by the United Nations, there is no time scale for what has been and continues to be nothing more than an aspiration. In the run-up to the general election, pressure needs to be maintained on the Labour and Conservative parties to give clear commitments as to when they will reach the modest UN target for development aid to poorer countries, because without funds, all talk of helping to eliminate poverty and promote sustainable development is simply a somewhat pious aspiration.

International development is an area in which I hope the shadow Chancellor will make it clear that a future Conservative Government would not just match the present Government's spending, but do considerably better. Apart from sound humanitarian reasons for assisting developing countries, there are also good commercial reasons to assist world development. Britain is a trading nation; we export more per head of population than any other country in the world except Japan, and— quite apart from any other consideration—it is in Britain's interest that as much of the world as possible should develop and prosper.

A number of hon. Members have made it clear that if more and more parts of the world move towards ever more desperate poverty, it will not be surprising if there are an ever-increasing number of economic refugees, many of whom will wish to come to the United Kingdom. My first point, therefore, is that there must be pressure from all political parties for an increase in the aid budget—let us at least try to reach the UN target of 0.7 per cent. as quickly as possible.

My second point is that at least a quarter of the money that DFID receives is spent by the European Community. This year, the European Union will take £728 million of DFID's money—a quarter of its budget. Now, I have no hesitation in declaring myself pro-European. I am happy to be described on Eurosceptic websites as a Europhile. I fervently believe that it is in Britain's best long-term interest to work with our partners in Europe, and that Britain's voice will be heard more clearly throughout the world as a consequence. I hope that my wholehearted support for Britain's membership of the European Union means that criticism of EU institutions by me and others who think in a similar way will be taken all the more seriously.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

I know that my hon. Friend was merely trying to goad hon. Members by saying that. I do not feel goaded, but I wonder what evidence he has that our voice has been heard more seriously around the world during our membership of the European Union. I know that he will simply say what a tremendous success the European Union has made of its aid programme, because he and I agree about a lot of things.

Mr. Baldry

If my hon. Friend had been listening, he would have known that I was going to say I am unimpressed by the EU development programme. I was laying the ground for saying that I hope it will carry greater credence for someone with my credentials to say that they are unimpressed by the EU development aid programme than if such a statement came from the mouth of someone who was known for criticising everything in the European Union and for being a classic Eurosceptic. However, we live in a somewhat bizarre world if a Conservative who says that he is a pro-European is challenged by his parliamentary colleagues for having goaded them. I look forward to sitting on these Benches and to being goaded for many a year yet, and I hope that the argument will regain a better mainstream balance in due course.

I was making the point that I am unimpressed by the EU development aid programme, and I am not alone in that. The Select Committee on International Development examined the effectiveness of EU development assistance in its report published in the previous Session. It is important to remember that the Committee, like all the Select Committees, has a large Labour majority. Nevertheless, it unanimously concluded: EC external assistance policies are clearly determined more by political priorities than poverty alleviation … The aims of the Statement on Development Policy are unlikely to be achieved in the absence of a dedicated development budget which would enable outcomes to be audited against developmental objectives. At present, development funds are drawn from a budget which also covers expenditure on external action. All too often"— funds— initially envisaged as a source of finance for community development programmes, are 'raided' by the Council of Ministers to fund political initiatives that they do not wish to fund bilaterally, amounting to what Clare Short described as 'political gestures'. Any failure in poverty focus can simply be explained away as 'external action' rather than 'development' … Whilst we welcome the rationalisation of the Commission, the present geographical division cannot make for good development policy. The fact that responsibility for Asia—which contains half of the world's poor—remains outside DG Development is inexplicable … To have three focuses is, simply, to be unfocused … at best useless and at worst dangerous. The Statement"— on EU development— should not be endorsed until its commitment to poverty eradication is unequivocal … The level of existing backlogs is untenable. It cannot make for good practice to have an average of four and a half years between commitments and disbursement. It damages the reputation of the Community and will have severe implications for implementing partners. The Select Committee further noted: the problems that NGOs are having with the EC in getting paid on time. It went on: It has become very clear—both during Committee inquiries and from evaluations of ECHO"— that is the humanitarian relief organisation of the European Union— that ECHO suffers from exactly the same problems of poor administration, delayed disbursement and staffing as other parts of the Commission. During our recent visit to Brussels and when examining ECHO's own website we have been unable to discern any clear and transparent information on how and where ECHO is spending its money. This is clearly unacceptable. We recommend that DFID request details of amounts committed and disbursed by ECHO, with all relevant dates, in: Mozambique after the recent floods; Central America in the wake of Hurricane Mitch; Kosovo: and Ethiopia during the recent emergency … We also recommend that ECHO, as a matter of urgency, reform its procedures so as to provide prompt, clear and comprehensive information on its activities. The Committee concluded:

None of the issues raised in the report are new. We are exasperated with the failure of the Commission to reform its development activity effectively. We have no doubt that were the development reforms we outline implemented, the EC could make a real difference to the elimination of poverty. The EC is living on borrowed time—the Commission should give up its addiction to half-measures and have the courage to reform for the benefit of the world's poor. My second point is, therefore, quite simple. There is an urgent need for reform of European development activity. The Secretary of St.tte may well say that a start has been made, but at least a quarter of the UK aid budget is going to the European Union. We are entitled to expect the Government to ensure that there is a process in place that can bring about effective reform as speedily as possible.

Indeed, I would go further. Clause 4 provides for the Secretary of State to support organisations or funds that wholly or partly exist for the relevant purposes set out in clause 1. That provision empowers her to give money to the European Union. Clearly, some of the money that the European Union uses cannot demonstrably be proven simply to be used for poverty reduction; hence the need for clause 4.

I suggest that clause 4 should not be implemented until the Government can convince the House that, in the words of the International Development Committee, the European Commission has had the courage to reform for the benefit of the world's poor. Until we can detect demonstrable change in the Commission and its handling of development aid, the Government must seriously con sidei whether they should implement clause 4 and simply give the Commission money—a quarter of our aid budget—year on year in a fashion that does not encourage it to reform. That is a matter of serious concern.

An International Development Committee report in the previous Session noted that EU policies are clearly determined more by political priorities than by poverty alleviation. Our European colleagues often have political priorities of their own. To echo comments made earlier, the shameful feting of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe by the Belgian Prime Minister yesterday is a classic example of that. Of course Belgium has historic links to the Congo and doubtless thinks that it among the international community is obliged to take a lead in the Great Lakes area. Belgium may have a part to play, but that does not mean that the red carpet has to be laid out for Mugabe, almost to the strains of "Hail the Conquering Hero".

If one were writing a case history of bad governance, corruption and despotism, it would be difficult to find a worse example than Zimbabwe. If the Harare declaration is to have any credibility whatever, Zimbabwe should be suspended from the Commonwealth forthwith. An assurance that no further development aid will go to Zimbabwe until some semblance of good governance is restored would be extremely welcome. Clearly there is a tension between poverty reduction and good governance, and although I have no quarrel with the need to focus on poverty reduction, we cannot ignore the need to achieve good governance.

Following on from the size of the aid budget and reform of the EU development budget, my next point about what can be done to help the world's poor concerns debt. The Jubilee 2000 campaign has achieved an enormous amount. Debt is not felt by politicians whose policies incur that debt; it is borne by the poorest people, through what they are denied. I congratulate the Government: it is good news that they have renounced the right to receive any benefit from historic debt owed to us by all the 41 most indebted countries. It is also good news that they have cancelled all aid debt for heavily indebted poor countries.

When the Heads of Government of the world's wealthiest nation's get together at the G8 summit this summer, it is to be hoped that they will focus on further measures for debt relief for poor countries as well as ways in which industrial countries can open up their markets to exports from poorer countries. It is obviously good news that the EU, only a matter of days ago, made it clear that it will provide duty and quota-free access to EU markets for the least developed countries, ending all import tariffs. Developing countries must reciprocate. They have a part to play, where appropriate, in helping to put an end to civil wars and external conflicts, because it is pointless to provide debt relief if the money simply goes on further arms expenditure. It is also good news that debt relief has gathered momentum, and I hope that that momentum can increase.

The Bill is unobjectionable. Perhaps it was not needed, but it presents us with a welcome opportunity to debate international development. I hope that Members on both sides of the House and people throughout the whole country will exert pressure on Front Benchers from both main political parties to ensure that international development features in the general election campaign, whenever it comes, and that there is a clear commitment to increase spending on development aid. We must maintain the momentum on debt relief and on reforming the EU development budget. The task ahead of us is enormous and at times seems almost overwhelming, but we have a great duty of care to get it right for future generations. If we do not, the consequences for the world will be serious.

8.15 pm
Mr. Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale, East)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry). I do not know whether he remembers as well as I do a visit that he paid in the mid-1980s as a new Member of Parliament to a project that I ran for young offenders in Salford. I welcome his remarks about increasing the aid budget, which will be supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who made what he described as possibly his last speech to the House—certainly the last on international development. I found his speech interesting and it certainly displayed great understanding of and commitment to international development issues. It stood in stark contrast to the contribution made from the Conservative Front Bench by the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter). My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) described it as mean-minded, and it was.

The hon. Gentleman asserted that people are disillusioned with Government policy on development, but my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) scotched that one and I agree with him. The policies on international development and debt have been extremely popular and have impressed and encouraged many of my constituents. I look forward to the election, when we can compare our record with his little blue book, but I shall present my party's argument without recourse to the personal abuse with which, sadly, his speech was laced.

Throughout my lifetime, in and out of politics, considerable debate has been provoked by the saying, "Charity begins at home." Some argue that the United Kingdom, which over the last quarter of the 20th century became one of the most economically and socially divided countries in the industrialised world, should put the needs of its poorest people first. Others remind us that, despite those deep divisions, ours is still a rich country, so we should begin with the needs of those in Asia and Africa whose lives are a daily and often unsuccessful struggle to survive. My view is that the moral mandate to prioritise the needs of people in poverty does not make the question one of either/or. We must deal with both.

My belief, which, I am proud to say, is shared by Ministers in this Administration, is that a Government pledged to tackle social exclusion at home are all the more likely to fight poverty abroad. A Government who are determined to reduce the health inequalities facing children in Manchester will also strive to improve the life chances of babies born in Mozambique. Tomorrow, we shall no doubt hear more good news from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. Throughout this Parliament, his sound economic policies, which have increased employment and moved more than 1 million children out of poverty, have also enabled the Government to increase development assistance by 45 per cent. in real terms and move, at long last, towards the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product.

I warmly welcome the Bill, which moves us on from the broader requirements of the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980 to a more focused responsibility for providing development assistance that, as clause 1 makes clear, is likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty. Too often, development assistance has been tied to post-colonial and cold war interests. Too often, it has enhanced the interests of the donor rather than the recipient. It has relied too heavily on the actions of fragile and frequently corrupt regimes, whose interest in conflict or personal wealth has prevented help from reaching the very poorest. Too often, assistance has been a bandage on wounds inflicted by the systems of international finance and trade.

Again, the values that connect domestic and international policy are clear. Just as this Government believe that the answer to the problem of poverty in the United Kingdom is the opportunity for an individual to earn, and not simply for the Government to hand out more generous welfare benefits, it seems that international development must be sustainable rather than being merely a handout from the rich man's table. That means encouraging significant private sector investment in poor countries; it also means the introduction of grass-roots initiatives such as micro-credit, which enable people in poor areas to fund and develop their own solutions. Clause 6 empowers the Secretary of State to give guarantees and acquire securities, as well as to dispense grants and loans. I believe that that power will add much-needed strength to the Government's approach.

I want to make four specific points. First, I warmly welcome the provision in clause 4 for the Secretary of State to promote awareness of global poverty and of the means of reducing such poverty. Development education is extremely important. I pay tribute to the development education project based at Manchester Metropolitan university, which is part of the United Kingdom Development Education Association. By means of initiatives such as "global express" it has been able to provide resources and training for teachers, helping them to engage their students in practical projects linking opportunities to learn about subjects such as history and geography with the exploration of issues of citizenship and sustainable development—and, crucially, with values, moral principles and an informed view of the world. The campaigning and advocacy of international development agencies such as CAFOD also play a vital role in the raising of public awareness of the short-term and long-term needs of people in poverty.

As the Secretary of State said, sustaining a global consensus that poverty must be ended will require the informed support of citizens throughout the developed world. The additional funds for development education that the Government have already given are therefore extremely welcome, underpinned as they will be by the Bill.

My second point relates to the Government's clearly stated commitment to ending tied aid from April. As the Secretary of State made clear in the globalisation White Paper and repeated in her speech today, the tying of aid is inefficient and provides poor value for money. It frequently puts the interests of the donor above those of the recipient in ways that are inconsistent with a focus on poverty reduction. In short, this was a policy that did not and never could work in the interests of the poor, and we are well rid of it.

Some have asked why we should not include such a provision in the Bill. My right hon. Friend responded helpfully by explaining that the poverty focus in the Bill made the practice impossible, given that the value of aid was reduced by about 25 per cent. when it was tied in that way.

My third point concerns debt. I am pleased that a number of Members have raised that issue, although the Bill contains no specific debt provisions. The Government—I refer to my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Chancellor in particular—have given a strong and inspiring international lead on debt reduction: they argued for the reform of the heavily indebted poor countries initiative, pressed for 100 per cent. bilateral write-offs and placed poverty reduction strategies at the centre of the arrangements for each country.

While it may not be practical or necessary to include debt provisions in the Bill, it is important for us, in this debate, to emphasise the vital role that debt reduction must continue to play if we are to achieve our goal of halving world poverty by 2015. Ensuring that 22 countries reached the HIPC decision point by the end of 2000 was a huge achievement, but that progress must be maintained. Every effort should also be made to ensure that those who, as a result of conflict, have not yet been able to benefit from HIPC are eventually able to do so.

It is true that debt reduction on its own is not enough. It is also true that many poor people in areas such as south Asia do not benefit from the HIPC programme, because their countries have not the same level of crippling debt. Nevertheless, debt reduction must remain a central feature of the overall strategy to reduce global poverty.

There is also the question of what steps the international community is willing to take to ensure that the debt crisis facing so many poor countries does not occur again. My right hon. Friend has made a remarkable contribution, but even she would admit that she will not be Secretary of State for ever. It is essential to ensure that international development and financial institutions devise transparent and durable systems to protect the world's poorest people from irresponsible borrowing and lending; unsustainable debt is in no one's interest.

I want to say something about another important link between domestic and international policy—the need for people in poverty, wherever they live, to be genuinely involved in the regeneration of their own communities. In this context, I am probably echoing some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent. For years, we in the United Kingdom thought that all it took to improve the prospects of poor and disadvantaged areas was to make the place look better: central Government would allocate the money, and local government would decide how to spend it. But top-down solutions meant that the people were left behind, and before long the buildings were usually as bad as ever.

I believe that this Government more than any before have emphasised the need to work alongside people and empower them. Partnership is the key. So it is in international development. It can no longer be a question of what the rich can do for the poor; it must be a question of how, by working together, we can eradicate poverty for ever.

I was interested to hear recently about a project run jointly by Church Action on Poverty and Christian Aid, linking local people from Thornaby on Teesside with a similar group from Manila in the Philippines. Over three years, 40 people—a mixed group including benefit claimants and disabled people as well as a local teacher and a general practitioner—went on exchange visits to each other's communities. They discussed their problems and their ideas for solutions. Working with the wider community, they shared their experience of local projects and considered how community groups could organise their own responses to the poverty that they faced. Their overall conclusion was that the biggest gulf was not one of geography, but the gulf between the powerful and powerless, the rich and the poor, wherever they may he.

I believe that the challenge of the new millennium is to foster the kind of solidarity that that project developed, but to link it with a new understanding among the rich of the world that if we do not make that world a fairer place in which to live we will, in the end, all suffer the consequences. The Bill will help us to achieve that aim.

8.28 pm
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

I, too, welcome this debate. It is customary when speaking in our debates to say that there have been some interesting speeches. I do not wish to be patronising, but I really do think that we have heard some very interesting and useful speeches.

I approach the issue of international development with a sense of the moral obligation that the rich have towards the poor. It is not only a Christian obligation, but—as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) said—a moral obligation that we all have towards the poor of the world.

I also agree with some other hon. Members in questioning the need for this legislation. The Secretary of State and the Department for International Development seem to have been doing perfectly well in the past four years, and we have commended much of what they have done. I therefore do not entirely share their determination to pass this Bill. Nevertheless, I do not entirely object to a new Bill or to the establishment of a new set of parameters.

I have been on the Select Committee on International Development for almost four years. It has been fascinating and extremely educational. Like the Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford, I believe that the Committee has done useful work. However, I have also found it frustrating because, as much as I should like to bash the Government, we have often found that that is rather difficult to do. We have had to adopt a rather non-partisan approach. It is not that all the Department's actions have been good but that, as we all agree that poverty is a bad thing, any action taken around the world to defeat poverty, although one may not be entirely uncritical of it, is generally to be applauded.

I am therefore sorry that there has been so much partisan discussion in this debate, about which I take issue with the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Mr. Goggins). The partisan discussion started with the Secretary of State—I am sorry that she has left the Chamber—who kept saying how dreadful the previous Administration had been. However, those comments contrasted with her previous comments. I realise that, in an attempt to be somewhat conciliatory, the Overseas Development Administration did not get everything right; generally, however, it got most things right.

The Department for International Development does not get everything right either; generally, however, it does most things pretty well. As I said, all hon. Members in the Chamber wish to see the Department flourish. I think that we all support its aims, even if we might disagree on various specific issues. Perhaps I should add that the Secretary of State commended the Trinidad terms. This Government's action on debt has, similarly, been mostly pretty good.

I should like to address four issues in my speech: governance, HIV-AIDS, de-mining and European aid. As has already been mentioned, the Committee is examining corruption. We have had some mind-boggling evidence from business people about the need for "facilitating payments". When I asked whether that meant small bribes rather than big bribes, I was told that that is exactly what it means. Last week, we took evidence from the Secretary of State. I do not think that there is much difference between Opposition Committee members and her on the governance issue. Indeed. I thought that her evidence was extremely illuminating and useful.

The Committee also heard that corruption is the biggest deterrent to investment for any international company. Although some international companies may make facilitating payments, they would prefer not to have to do so. They want to operate in countries where the rule of law runs and they know that, although they have certain obligations, they can make money—their profits—without having to pay bribes. Those of us who believe, as I think the Government do, that investment and economic growth are imperative in alleviating poverty, regard corruption as the biggest deterrent to inward investment.

As we all agree, and as my hon. Friends the Members for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) and for Hertford and Stortford said, the poor suffer most from corruption. If one has a lot of money and loses a few dollars, it does not matter very much. However, those who have to live on less than $1 a day and then have to pay extra for their children's schooling suffer greatly from the loss of such sums. Similarly, people who cannot afford to pay extra for health care suffer most.

I particularly applaud the Department's policies to support public service reform. I believe, however, that we have to be tough in promoting it. The old saying is that one has to be cruel to be kind. Although I do not think that that applies fully in this situation, I still believe that we have to be tough. When corruption in any form is discovered, but particularly grand corruption, it cannot be tolerated.

Hon. Members have mentioned Zimbabwe. I do not think that we can tolerate the corruption that has led to the deployment of large numbers of troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo and to war there. We are aware of the influence of diamonds in that case and in Sierra Leone. We must make a stand against corruption wherever it may be, and we have to be tough. I think that the Government are generally tough when dealing with it, but sometimes we could be a little tougher. The United Kingdom is perhaps adopting a firmer view on corruption than it had during the cold war. I think that that is true of the world community generally. Since he took up his position at the World Bank in 1996, Jim Wolfensohn has demonstrated how we can move forward on the issue, as we really must.

The hon. Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett), among other hon. Members, has already mentioned the issue of HIV-AIDS. In sub-Saharan Africa, HIV-AIDS is undoubtedly the biggest threat of all to the poor. Again, as schools are being left without teachers, hospitals without doctors and untold numbers of children without parents, it is the poor who are suffering most. It is reducing life expectancy in a way that should make us all want to weep, as it is destroying the achievements of development. The disease is torpedoing development. When I referred to it as the black death that was stalking Africa, the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) picked me up as though that was a racist comment. It was intended only as an analogy with the way in which the black death stalked Europe. This morning I heard Glenys Kinnock on the "Today" programme referring to it as the black death, so although I might be accused of many things, few people would wish to accuse Glenys Kinnock of being racist—particularly if they were in the same room as her.

I commend DFID for the work that is being done, but the issue needs to maintain its high profile. The majority of people on the streets of Blaby, or London, are not aware of the devastating effect that HIV-AIDS is having on the poorest countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. We need to continue to press the issue so that people understand its impact.

The Select Committee is about to produce a report on HIV-AIDS. I have not seen it so I cannot leak it, but we must realise that the disease not only destroys development but increases poverty and creates instability and conflict. I know that on this issue, the Secretary of State and the Department are very much on side, but it needs to be stressed time and again.

I now turn to de-mining. I should say first that I am an unpaid trustee of the HALO Trust, which is the largest de-mining agency in the world. We receive excellent support from the Department. De-mining is a large element of DFID's bilateral funding to the HALO Trust and other organisations such as the Mines Advisory Group. I intend to discuss the issue with the Secretary of State next week.

Less than three weeks ago, members of the Select Committee went to a de-mining site in Cambodia. The lack of knowledge about the impact of anti-personnel mines is also quite grave. People know about the Ottawa treaty and what a bad thing land mines are, but they do not know quite what is meant by de-mining. We are not talking about minefields staked out with a nice wire fence and signs depicting skulls and crossbones and "Achtung Minen" signs. We are talking about a mined site that may be in a village, sometimes under people's houses because that is where the Khmer Rouge or the Government forces were slugging it out some 10 years ago. People are literally living on top of land mines and that can have a devastating impact their lives. Generally, land mines are planted not in out-of-the-way places but in populated areas and on agricultural land as that is where people were fighting.

I have a CIET report on the social costs of land mines in Cambodia. Admittedly, it is about five years old. It found that in Cambodia, which is a country of grinding poverty, there could be a 135 per cent. increase in agricultural produce if all the anti-personnel mines were cleared. One can imagine the impact on people's lives of having land mines around. Every child knows to stick to a path through a particular village because if it wanders from the path it might get blown up. If a breadwinner is killed or has a foot blown off, the impact on the family is devastating.

The same report found that in Cambodia 61 per cent. of families with a mine victim went into debt to pay for medical treatment. Debt is a serious matter that many of us have encountered, but in Cambodia we heard from people who were selling their children into prostitution to pay off their debts. They were losing their land and becoming bonded slaves. It is an issue of such importance that to say blandly that 61 per cent. of affected families go into debt is understating the case.

I am not, as a trustee of a land mine clearance agency, indulging in special pleading about land mine clearance. I am trying to increase the general knowledge of the problems to do with land mines. Those of us who went to Cambodia found the visit very illuminating.

Like other countries, Cambodia has a mines action committee, CMAC. It has had a bad few years. A 1999 audit of the committee's funds for the two previous years by the accountants, KPMG, found that a lot of money had disappeared, and that the group's administration was poor, to put it mildly. However, the worst finding was that the committee was working to clear land not for poor people, but for fat cats—people with Government connections, or senior military officers, for example. The whole purpose of the clearance was being negated, to a large extent. The Select Committee met King Sihanouk, who saw fit to raise with us CMAC's appalling record. I think that that was rather illuminating.

Mine clearance is a slow and mind-numbing task. Each person can clear about 35 sq m a day. In Cambodia, mine clearers get $150 a month, which compares with the $22 a month that a headmaster gets. The job may be tedious and take a long time, but it is essential for poor communities. The Committee saw a school that had been built on de-mined land. Who would build a school on land that had not been de-mined? That is the question that we must ask.

Finally, it is often estimated that there are between 100 million and 110 million land mines and anti-personnel mines scattered around the world. The House should treat such estimates with a large pinch of salt. It takes an enormous effort to plant mines and carry heavy munitions. Leaving aside the Russians in Afghanistan, most of the armies that planted the mines were made up of irregular soldiers who moved on foot. They did not plant mines in the enormous numbers that are spoken of.

That fact is important, because 110 million mines seems an insuperable clearance target. The real total is much lower: throughout the world, there are probably about 6 million mines. That total puts the problem in a different perspective. Some organisations have an interest in overstating the case. However, that is not to say that one anti-personnel mine that takes the leg off a child is not one mine too many.

The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that the Secretary of State described the European Union as the worst agency in the world. At last, reform of the aid programme is on the agenda. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, I might be described as a little bit of a Euro-pragmatist, but we can all agree that the recent history of the EU aid programme has been a scandal and a disgrace.

I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State applauding the proposed reforms, but we should judge them on results. It is no good throwing good money after bad. Money has been wasted in an appalling manner. The culture in EU offices is too cosy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford described. People have been in the business a long time and have made a decent living out of it. I am sure that they have done some good, but they have been sitting around on their backsides for too long.

Neil Kinnock is trying to change the leopard's spots among EU employees, and he is having a lot of trouble. There must be a change in culture before we contemplate putting more money into EU programmes, and I applaud my party's view that we should spend more money bilaterally. I think that we all agree that the money is not generally well spent. Although in general I applaud DFID's determination to work with others, we should not lower our standards of aid delivery or lose sight of our objectives just to keep in with partners, he they the EU or others.

I wish to make two further quick points. We recently visited Cambodia, a grindingly poor but very beautiful country. The small amount of aid that we spend there has a disproportionate impact in terms of what it can achieve. Some aid is a drop in the ocean in a large country, but the aid that we spend in Cambodia has a disproportionate impact. I urge the Minister to consider spending more money in Cambodia rather than less. It is not Conservative policy to spend more money, so I hope that I will not be picked up for saying that. Nevertheless, I think that the money spent there achieved a great deal.

Along with the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) and other right hon. and hon. Members, I would like an annual debate on development, perhaps focused on the Department's annual report. Such a debate would be useful—it would raise the profile of the Department, the work that it does and the need for that work to be done. Again, most people in the Chamber would not disagree with that.

I do not disagree with the Bill; it is mostly quite sound. I have generally agreed with DFID's actions and policies over the past three or four years. I have some reservations about the Bill but, despite those, I wish it well and hope that DFID, under whatever Government is in power after the election, continues its good work.

8.46 pm
Mr. Desmond Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

I am delighted to have the opportunity of contributing to what has been described as an historic debate. Other hon. Members have pointed out that this is the first such debate for 20 years. [Interruption.] They have pointed out that this is the first such debate on an international development Bill for 20 years.

Mr. Wells

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Browne

I have hardly started, but I will.

Mr. Wells

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. May I explain the circumstances surrounding the Bill 20 years ago? It was late at night when the Bill was introduced by the Solicitor-General, who said that it was something to do with the consolidation of many Bills and that the House might like to consider it with alacrity. The House did just that—the proceedings were over in three minutes.

Mr. Browne

I do not know whether I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) for his intervention because, to some degree, he has stolen my thunder. I was intending to point out that my research has revealed that the debate on the last Bill, which was a consolidation measure, took up one column in the Official Report of the House of Commons and half a column in the Official Report of the other place.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). The four years that I have been in the House have not been peppered with much common ground between us, but I found some tonight. It is appropriate to put on record my admiration for the work of the Halo Trust and my commendation of the hon. Gentleman and his fellow trustees for their contribution to that great work. I share his belief that there is a moral basis to development, but I also share the view of other right hon. and hon. Members that self-interest comes into it in that we want a peaceful future for the world and for our children.

It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend—in all senses—the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Mr. Goggins). We travelled together to Colombia as part of a delegation of European parliamentarians in 1999. As my hon. Friend drafted and redrafted the final statement, I was exposed to his considerable skills in language and diplomacy. I have heard him speak on many occasions since, and tonight he lived up to his own high standards. I agreed with almost every word that he said.

On Sunday night in Kilmarnock, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State addressed a meeting of more than 500 people of all ages. It was the biggest public meeting in Kilmarnock for many years, and was bigger even than a full meeting of the parliamentary Labour party, which is quite difficult to achieve these days. The meeting was supported by Oxfam, Christian Aid, Fair Trade and the only Scottish-based international development organisation, the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund. It was organised, with help from Unison and the GMB, through the office that I share with my colleague, the Member of the Scottish Parliament for Kilmarnock and Loudoun. It provided my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State with an excellent opportunity to see the extent of support in my constituency for her Department's policies.

I must encourage more of the people who attended that meeting to visit the Department's website to answer the poll questions on that website. Their numbers alone would help to dispel the myth of disillusion peddled by the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) from the Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. Douglas Alexander (Paisley, South)

Does my hon. Friend agree that one virtue of such meetings lies in their making clear the link between international debt reduction of the kind that Jubilee 2000 has campaigned for and the poverty eradication strategy essential to the Bill before us?

Mr. Browne

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for that good point. He was anxious to contribute to tonight's debate, but his responsibilities elsewhere have precluded him from doing so. I know of his support for international development, and that he has marshalled informed support in his constituency, which mirrors the support in my own. As an aside, I may add that his constituency is served by Bishop John Mone, who leads SCIAF and who is a powerful advocate for the rights of the poor throughout the world. The bishop is known throughout Scotland for his contribution to international development objectives.

The meeting gave my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State an opportunity to explain the policies that underpin the objectives set out in both the White Papers published by her Department since the general election and in her speech today. It was more than a meeting; it was an event. My right hon. Friend's inspiring speech was set alongside performances by the Stewarton academy senior wind ensemble, the Kilmarnock concert brass and the Aeolian male voice choir, all of which are fine examples of the phenomenon referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall). There were additional contributions, including personal accounts of the challenges and opportunities faced by some of the world's poorest people, which were read by Ailsa Henderson, who works extensively for Christian Aid in Ayrshire, and by Paul Chitnis, the director of SCIAF.

The importance of the meeting lay in the fact that all who participated left the hall recommitted to the work of development. Messages, cards and e-mails from people who attended are coming thick and fast to my office in Kilmarnock. All express thanks for the event, but they also ask what more can be done. If there is any need for evidence that our Government's change in development policy—moving it from, as my right hon. Friend put it, a policy subordinate to commercial and short-term political interests, to one based on the reduction of poverty and a national and international commitment to meet the 2015 international development targets—is a proper one, the turnout and response at that meeting was enough evidence for me.

There is growing public awareness of our objectives, and approval and support is, to my knowledge, 100 per cent. among non-governmental organisations. From the number of different departmental publications circulated by my office alone, I know that the information contained in them has contributed greatly to the understanding that permeates my community. All the schools in my constituency have received teaching aids from the same source. An understanding of development is a component of good citizenship, so I am grateful for that contribution. I encourage the Department to continue to produce such valuable materials—they are much appreciated.

It is therefore opportune that we should be debating a Bill that establishes poverty reduction as the central aim of UK development assistance. Some people ask why we should have the Bill. I welcome it. I do not have the experience or expertise of many of my hon. Friends or of other hon. Members. This debate and the fact that it has exposed me to that expertise is a good argument in support of those hon. Members who have spoken so eloquently of the need for more such debates—or at least for regular and compulsory debates on the matter. When the proper policy targets are established and agreed across the House—as they are in this matter—they should be set out in an appropriate legislative framework. If the Bill did no more than that, it would merit introduction.

Although I accept that, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, poverty is a complex phenomenon, its complexity lies principally in the fact that the poor of the world live in vastly different ecological zones from the rich. The poor face different health conditions and limitations in their agriculture; they have fewer economic opportunities. That fundamental cause of their persisting poverty is often further complicated by the fact many of them live in corrupt or conflict-ridden societies.

However, that does not detract from the importance of recognising that different ecologies are the fundamental cause of poverty. The 30 countries with the highest incomes lie overwhelmingly in the world's temperate zones. By contrast, of the 42 HIPCs, 39 are tropical or desert societies. Although the climate of the remaining three—Laos, Malawi and Zambia—is substantially temperate, those countries are landlocked and isolated; they face unique challenges.

One of the world's most important challenges is to mobilise science and technology to address the key differences, and the fact that opportunities are afforded to the rich but denied to the poor. The necessity of using science and technology to improve health, to increase agricultural productivity and to combat environmental degradation is one of the factors that lies at the heart of the Government's second White Paper.

Important though that is, however, it is a compelling irony that as science and technology create new wealth and well-being in the richer countries, the conditions in many of the poorest are growing significantly worse. It is not only life but death that differs in those countries. We in the north enjoy a life expectancy of 70 years or more. Although we complain about them, we can largely thank our winters for that. In the HIPCs, average life expectancy is about 50—in some of those countries, it is falling. That is caused by the burden of diseases such as malaria, hookworm and sleeping sickness, which overlays poverty. That combination creates a vicious circle. Short life expectancy can be a result of poverty, but it is also a cause of poverty.

All the rich countries research on rich country ailments such as cardiovascular disease and cancer will not solve the problems of malaria; nor will biotechnology advances for temperate-zone crops easily transfer to the conditions of tropical agriculture. To address the special conditions of HIPCs, we must first understand their unique problems.

The inequalities of income across the world are exceeded by the inequalities of scientific output and technological innovation. Despite the fact that many of the scientific and technological breakthroughs are being made by poor-country scientists, they are being made in rich countries. Global science is directed by rich countries for rich countries, even to the extent of harnessing much of the scientific potential of poor countries. Indian and Chinese experts are numerous in silicon valley. The result is a profound imbalance in the global production of knowledge—probably the most powerful engine of divergence in global well-being between the rich and the poor.

Malaria kills more than 1 million people a year—perhaps as many as 2.5 million—but because it is concentrated in the poorest tropical countries, no one even bothers to keep an accurate count of clinical cases or deaths. Recent advances in biotechnology, including the mapping of the genome of the malaria parasite, suggest that a malaria vaccine is possible, but that is not high on the agenda of the international community and the pharmaceutical firms. The Wellcome Trust estimates that only $80 million a year is spent on malaria research; the big firms see no profit in it.

The AIDS epidemic, to which hon. Members have already referred, is an even more stark example. Two thirds of all HIV-positive people live in sub-Saharan Africa, but, yet again, science stops at that ecological divide. Rich countries control the epidemic through new drug treatments, which are much too expensive for the poorest countries, but vaccine research, which may be more cost-effective, is poorly funded. The same is true of tuberculosis, which still takes the lives of more than 2 million poor people each year and would probably be treatable with a vaccine, but little or no research is carried out; there is no market for it or profit in it.

A proper poverty focus will compel us to work together with our poor neighbours to mobilise science and technology for the poorest countries World institutions must fund research directed at the needs of those countries, not at the best return from the market. We must build on policies, such as the research and development tax credits announced last Monday by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and spread them throughout the world. At the same time, we must reconsider intellectual property.

It has been suggested that the current struggle over AIDS medicines in South Africa is an early warning shot in a much larger struggle over access to the fruits of human knowledge. Global decisions will be needed to resolve that struggle and, as a lawyer, I say that we cannot afford to leave it to lawyers and courts. Politicians must take responsibility for resolving those issues internationally.

Fergus Henderson of Stewarton—one of my constituents who attended the meeting on Sunday night—has written to me, posing questions that he did not have the opportunity to ask. Some of them have been answered by the very basis on which the Bill is set—the elimination of poverty. However—this is relevant to the comments that I have just made, especially to the South African case—he asks whether the Government will work to change World Trade Organisation rules to ensure that new medicines are available to those who need them, at a price that they can afford, as soon as is practicable. That issue goes to the root of the problem, and perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will address it in summing up.

In response to an intervention, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to my visit to Burundi and Rwanda, as a guest of Christian Aid, in late July and August last year. I was in the company of my hon. Friends the Members for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) and for Gloucester (Ms Kingham). We had originally intended to visit the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, but for reasons that I am sure all hon. Members who are present will understand, we were unable to do so—certainly, no sensible person would have done so at the time. However, Christian Aid's partners came to us. They bravely travelled across the border into Rwanda, where they told us the most harrowing stories of a people brutalised by all the many protagonists in the bloody conflict that rages throughout that country.

I mention that experience in the context of this debate not as part of a travelogue, but to illustrate my view. Armed with the evidence of the reality for those people, I was persuaded that we would have no difficulty in persuading any court—I hope that this reassures those on the Opposition Front Bench—that any aid that we could give to those people for the benefit of conflict resolution, human rights or good governance could easily be categorised as meeting the objectives of poverty reduction.

The Bill raises issues that are specific to Scotland. Development is a reserved matter, and the Scottish people are content that it remains so—certainly, so long as the primary policy is one of poverty reduction and the attaintment of the 2015 international development targets. The strength of the Jubilee 2000 campaign in the United Kingdom was the shared common purpose of the people of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland to deliver speedy and substantial debt relief to the poorest countries to reduce debt burdens to sustainable levels.

The Scots are as proud as other United Kingdom citizens that their Government took the lead in that process. They are acutely aware that what has been achieved has been dependent on our Government having a seat at the top table of the institutions that needed reform to improve their transparency, efficiency and accountability. They do not want to give up that role.

Scots have an admirable reputation for contributing to government and intergovernmental organisations and to NGOs involved in the delivery of humanitarian assistance and development aid. They will welcome the opportunity provided by clause 9 for their statutory bodies to enter into and carry out agreements for those purposes.

Clauses 9 and 10 contain a proper recognition of devolution. For the first time, there is also an interesting statutory attempt to define a Scottish body. It is appropriate that powers exercised by the Scottish bodies that have responsibility for devolved matters should be subject to an order made by a Scottish Minister. However, will my hon. Friend the Minister advise me whether legislation in Scotland will be required to enable a Scottish Minister to make such an order? If so, when does he expect that legislation to be introduced?

Clause 9(6)(b) envisages the Secretary of State acting with the consent of Scottish Ministers in certain circumstances. Will my hon. Friend the Minister tell us what the mechanism for obtaining that consent will be and reassure us that it will not create any delay in allowing the sort of agreements that we all want between our health care bodies and partners in developing countries?

For my final point, I return to the objective of poverty reduction. I draw on the reference that my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) made to drug eradication and on one of the "whys" asked by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge). Will my hon. Friend the Minister assure the House that, when enacted, the Bill will preclude any contribution to Plan Colombia? That plan has been focused improperly on a military plan involving the Colombian Government and the United States. Will he assure us that, until it is refocused as a development plan, the objectives at the core of the Bill will preclude us from spending one penny of our aid budget on it?

9.6 pm

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)

I welcome the Bill as a useful summary of the Government's position on international development. I declare a slight disinterest: I am not a member of the Select Committee on International Development, I never have been a member and I am never likely to be a member. On behalf of Plaid Cymru, I also welcome the way in which the Government have worked on this issue. As we always say, not enough money has been devoted to development, but the Government's aims and intentions are welcome.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) mentioned the large public meeting that was held in his constituency. I regret that when the Secretary of State came to Wales yesterday, she was greeted by a custard pie. Although we can throw many brickbats and even custard pies at some Ministers and members of the Government, we should not treat the right hon. Lady in such a way. She has done sterling work in government to try to raise the level of debate on international development. She has also done excellent work throughout the United Kingdom to enable us to debate the issues.

Although we do not have frequent opportunities to debate these matters in the House, I join other Members in saying how widely popular such measures are in our constituencies. In that regard, I pay particular tribute to Jubilee 2000, which has organised one of the most successful campaigns that I have seen. The Prime Minister described it as one of the most successful grass-roots campaigns, and many Members will still have in their offices little sacks and plastic bags full of red "drop the debt chain" postcards.

We know how successful the campaign has been, because 22 of the most heavily indebted countries have received the debt relief that was promised to them. Others will receive debt relief as they introduce their poverty reduction programmes. Although I am sure that the Government would have worked to a certain extent for debt relief, Jubilee 2000 clearly shows how NGOs in this country, with their strong links abroad, can work to persuade the Government to act as quickly as possible. I pay tribute to those organisations.

The question has been raised whether the Bill is necessary because the powers already seem to exist. The Secretary of State gave a cogent and clear argument about why she wanted to entrench measures for poverty reduction in a Bill. After 21 years, it is time to debate the future of international development and this country's role in supporting developing countries.

However, for me, one watchdog has not barked. I am concerned about the definition of sustainable development. For the first time in legislation on international development, there is a clear reference to the need for international assistance to be provided to further sustainable development. That is an important advance. It is only the second time that sustainable development has been cited in a Bill. It was first mentioned in the Government of Wales Act 1998, which obliges the National Assembly for Wales to have regard to sustainable development.

The Secretary of State was asked about the definition of poverty. However, does the Bill contain an adequate definition of sustainable development? It states: 'sustainable developoment' includes any development that is, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, prudent"— no doubt we will hear more of that tomorrow—

having regard to the likelihood of its generating lasting benefits for the population of the country or countries in relation to which it is provided. That sweet definition sounds acceptable, but I do not trust future Secretaries of State to have the right view of sustainable development. It is too open-ended. We are getting rid of tied aid and it must not return by the back door, but the definition might allow that to happen. The likelihood of generating lasting benefits means that a future Secretary of State could argue that the tie-up with aid is for the benefit of the country in question and will support its sustainable development strategy. The Government and the Committee should consider including a phrase similar to the Brundtland declaration on sustainable development, which refers to the need not to compromise the requirements of future generations. That would be a huge advance.

The Secretary of State has the most able lieutenant. The Minister, whom I welcome to his new job, knows about sustainable development from his previous role. He has huge experience of responding to no end of debates on the environment in Westminster Hall, at all times of the morning and afternoon. He will help to produce a firmer definition of sustainable development. We need that because global warming and climate change are perhaps second only to warfare in the effects that they will have on developing countries in the next 50 years. Those countries are suffering most from climate change. Some 96 per cent. of deaths from natural disasters occur in developing countries, which are less able to deal with such catastrophes, as we know from events in Mozambique.

A quarter of people live in the developed world and devour three quarters of natural resources. We are also responsible for most environmental damage. The poor and deprived in the developing world suffer from the ill effects of that. We have heard much about our moral duty to support developing countries financially, but we also have a moral duty to consider how we run our economies and environment. According to one estimate, 10,000 people have been killed in the past two years by the effects of climate change. The vast majority of those were, of course, in poor countries.

A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has doubled the worst-case scenario. It mentions the loss of food crops, the disappearance of fisheries, the melting of glaciers—which provide millions of people with a summer water supply—and a rise in sea levels, which will cause massive economic disruption and migration. There is no doubt that Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa in particular, will be hit hardest by climate change in the next 25 to 50 years. People will be forced off their land in ever greater numbers because of the way in which the developed world has run its economy in the past 50 years. They will see this country, and Europe in general, as the promised land.

We have to be careful in discussions on the Kyoto targets—which, I hope will resume between Europe and the new United States Government—that we do not transfer the burden of dealing with climate change and emissions to the developing countries themselves. The Kyoto targets are global, and we must ensure that we in the developed countries take due responsibility. I therefore hope that the Government will continue to press for domestic measures to achieve those targets, rather than engage in backdoor deals, emission trading, a clean development mechanism and all the other things that have been suggested as a way out of the present impasse between north America and Europe or the Kyoto targets. Clearly, developing countries should not pick up the tab for our aims on the clear Kyoto targets. We should not and cannot transfer the burden to them.

Another issue of concern covered by the Bill is the negotiations on the General Agreement on Trade in Services and the World Trade Organisation, which have continued since last February and are expected to conclude in the next year or so. Reading the White Paper, "Eliminating World Poverty", I got the impression that the Government feel that globalisation and institutions such as the WTO can help to eliminate world poverty by investing in developing countries and creating decent jobs. However, those developing countries need a greater voice in that investment and should not simply be exploited by multinationals. Sustainable development, the protection of workers rights and the creation of a more equal world should be central duties for the WTO, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund; indeed, they should be part of the remit of the reformed United Nations.

We must accept that at the moment, the WTO dances to the tune of corporate America, not developing countries. We must get that issue across in the current GATS negotiations. The poorest 20 per cent. get just 1.1 per cent. of global income, but the richest 20 per cent. get 86 per cent. There is therefore a differential of more than 80 per cent., which cannot continue. No matter what is set out on paper in agreements, that income differential will always mean that developed countries and multinationals and companies within those countries will put the squeeze on developing countries. That will always be the case, so we need to use agreements such as GATS, and the WTO, to protect developing countries.

The Government have not recognised that argument, and still believe that those institutions can be used to eradicate poverty. I do not think that they are misguided, but we need a much more severe examination of what trade liberalisation means for developing countries. Although world trade has increased 17-fold in the past 50 years, Latin America's share of it has shrunk from 11 per cent. to 5 per cent. and Africa's from 8 per cent. to 2 per cent. The current goal of promoting economic growth by orienting economies to boosting exports and attracting direct foreign investment is an economic model that has not yet been proven to deliver to developing countries. In the past few years, trade developments in sub-Saharan Africa have resulted in a decline of almost 30 per cent. in gross domestic product, and we must take account of that in debates on GATS and the WTO.

GATS involves difficulties, and the potential impacts, both positive and negative, are enormous. So far, however, it has received only superficial scrutiny in the House. One reason is that we do not often have these debates—which is an excellent reason for having them more often. Another reason is that GATS is intensely complicated and difficult for us to take on board. In passing, I support the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun on events in South Africa and the need that they underline. Almost half South Africa's health spending is on drugs; the current challenge against it by the international drug companies in the courts will have a huge impact on the way in which it deals with AIDS and other health issues. International trade agreements and international drug companies may have the law on their side, but surely we must recognise that morally they have very little case indeed. It would be useful if the Government would help to negotiate with the drug companies based in the United Kingdom.

After a long debate, it seems that we are running out of time. I conclude by reiterating my party's policies. We support an increase to 0.7 per cent. of GDP to be spent on international aid. We would support any party which set that as its objective. We want to see a switch from military expenditure, which unfortunately is to rise by £4 billion in the comprehensive settlement, to international development. We would argue the virtues of a Tobin tax on international currency exchanges, with the proceeds of that tax diverted directly to international development.

I am grateful for having had the opportunity to take part in the debate.

9.20 pm
Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

Like all my colleagues, I sincerely welcome the Bill. Anyone who feels a moral compunction to lessen poverty, as we all do on both sides of the House, will congratulate the Government on the Bill.

Happily, morality is not the only winner. Yes, there is a moral compunction to eradicate poverty, educate children, reduce infant mortality, stem the flow of arms, reduce conflict, prevent environmental degradation, provide debt relief, promote the rule of law and safeguard human rights, but even among those who do not have a single moral bone in their bodies there is a growing recognition that we cannot afford not to deal with those issues.

The best way to deal with all those issues of life and death, prosperity and deprivation, is to safeguard a poverty-focused approach. That is what the Bill will enshrine in law. It represents a profound shift in international development policy, first introduced by the Government's White Paper in 1997. That approach is entirely different from the policy of the previous Government. We have refocused our entire development effort on the reduction of extreme poverty and we have untied all UK aid. That is an extremely important step.

What reduces poverty most? It is trade, coupled with the equitable redistribution of its benefits. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said many times, in the past 50 years we have lifted more people out of poverty than in the past 500 years. Most people have been pulled out of poverty not because they have been handed official development assistance, but because they or their families have been given access to an economy that permits them to earn a living wage and provides social sector investment in schools, hospitals, clinics and so on.

I refer anyone who has an interest in the matter to the Select Committee's 10th report on the WTO, entitled "After Seattle—the World Trade Organisation and Developing Countries", as well as DFID's own White Paper, "Eliminating World Poverty: Making Globalisation Work for the Poor."

Issues associated with trade and globalisation are central to the Bill's poverty-focused approach. We must generate pro-poor growth. Unfortunately, there is no consensus about what constitutes pro-poor growth. I eagerly await DFID's research into that. I welcome the range of financial instruments that the Bill makes available to DFID so that it can influence reform in the private sector. There is no point in influencing only the public sector, when many of the poorest people are never reached by the public sector. The recognition of that fact has infused Government thinking.

Without economic growth and access to markets, poor countries are condemned to an unbreakable cycle of poverty, so one anti-poverty strategy must be tariff-free access to developed countries' markets. At present, all the aid that the richer countries give the poorer countries still amounts to only 5.6 per cent. of what the poorer countries generate from trade.

Imagine if the terms of trade were fair. Imagine if the EU and the USA were not among the biggest protectionist culprits on the planet. Imagine if we could find it in our hearts to increase the miserable share of world trade that is apportioned to the poorest countries—to raise it from its current microscopic level of 0.4 per cent. Imagine if the international system was not riddled with double standards and the poorest of the poor were at the top of our agenda. They are at the top of the DFID agenda, but how do we make that dream world a reality that spreads across other organisations and institutions?

We should start with the development targets, which are otherwise known as Development Assistance Committee targets. They include halving the proportion of the world's population who are living in extreme poverty, getting all children into primary school, progressing gender equality, reducing infant mortality rates by two thirds and reducing maternal mortality by three quarters. The aim is to achieve all that by 2015. Those targets are the biggest challenge facing the world; they are the planet's "to do" list.

A woman in sub-Saharan Africa has a one in 12 chance of dying from pregnancy-related causes. In the developed world, she has a chance of one in 4,000. On current trends, 100 million children will be out of school in 2015. Developing countries carry the burden of 90 per cent. of the world's disease, but they receive less than 10 per cent. of its health resources. AIDS single-handedly threatens to roll back hard-won development gains. For example, it has knocked a staggering 22 years off average life expectancy in Zimbabwe. In Zambia, 42 per cent. of hospital beds are filled with AIDS victims, but despite all that, drug companies still want their pound of flesh. Given those appalling statistics, we need accelerated progress towards the DAC targets and not just more of the same. That is why the British Government's poverty-focused approach, which the Bill entrenches in legislation, is so critical if we are to reach the targets that I have mentioned.

I shall discard many parts of my speech because of lack of time, but I want to mention the change in approach by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. That is another example of the British Government using their influence to change the global institutions that affect policy on these matters. The World Bank and the IMF have followed the example set by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and made poverty reduction a part of their working ethos.

I used to be one of those who stood outside with placards and banners shouting and demonstrating against the IMF and the World Bank. I can hardly believe my ears when I hear the leaders of the those organisations, Jim Wolfensohn and Horst Kohler, exhorting member states to redouble their efforts to reduce poverty. Others working on the ground with those institutions might say that seeing is believing, but there is no getting away from the fact that the new World Bank and IMF approach, which is enshrined in the poverty reduction strategy papers—or PRSPs—contributes to helping the poorest people.

Equally importantly, PRSPs give ownership to developing countries. Interestingly, although they emerged from the process of debt relief, they are now being used as a tool in other areas. That highlights the importance of the cross-fertilisation of ideas in development—another area in which the British Government have taken the lead. We have also unilaterally provided 100 per cent. debt relief for any developing country that is committed to using the proceeds to benefit the poor. For example, we have moved heaven and earth to help the poorest people in Rwanda. Again, we have done so through debt relief, good governance and building a modern and effective state. The Government have led by example and put their money where their mouth is. Surely, politicians could never ask for more.

Between 1997–98 and 2003–04, our aid budget will have increased by 45 per cent. in real terms. It will total £3.6 billion in the final year, which is the largest UK aid budget ever. The Bill ensures that poverty eradication remains the focus of every penny of that money. For that reason, I welcome it unreservedly.

9.29 pm
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

Perhaps I am getting old, or perhaps I am mellowing, but I agreed with many hon. Members' comments. I therefore begin by congratulating everyone who has spoken. The Secretary of State may have to pick herself up off the floor when I join other hon. Members in welcoming the Bill.

The range of topics that hon. Members have raised shows how keenly the House has missed debating international development under this Government. We have covered drugs, AIDS, mine clearance, child labour, plague and pestilence, war and peacekeeping, the European Union, other institutions, the Commonwealth Development Corporation, climate change and even devolution. A common theme permeated the debate: we all want poverty to be reduced throughout the world, and we are unstinting in our praise for the NGOs and others who try to bring help and succour to the world's poorest people.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on producing the Bill like a rabbit out of a hat. I am sure that she was amazed when the usual channels gave her a slot for the measure. She did not have as much success in securing debates, but her Bill has reached Second Reading.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), who gave praise where it was due, and was unstinting in his comments on the Department's achievements. However, many hon. Members were sufficiently mean-minded to snipe at him, whether he was present or not. Those criticisms were hurtful and a little unfair.

I shall not go through every hon. Member's contribution in detail. The right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke), the hon. Members for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington), tor Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), for Stevenage (Barbara Follett), for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Mr. Goggins), for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne), for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), and for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), and my hon. Friends the Members for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), and for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) all made speeches, while my hon. Friends the Members for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), and for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), and the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Alexander) intervened. Every contribution had merit; every hon. Member spoke with authority.

I want to reserve most of my comments for two hon. Members, albeit Conservative Members, who will retire at the next election. I hope that all hon. Members will join me in congratulating my hon. Friends the Members for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) and for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) on their contributions today. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent showed his abiding concern for children and economic migrants. I pay tribute to the Youth Parliament that he promoted throughout the United Kingdom for the millennium. It was a magnificent project and a fitting tribute to his time in the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford is sitting right behind me. He has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in the House. Sinc e 1981, his stint on foreign affairs and development matters has been broken only briefly by a foray into the Whips Office. He soon returned to international development as a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and, since 1997, as Chairman of the Select Committee on International Development. He has made a genuine contribution. Before becoming a Member of Parliament, he gave up 12 years of his life to the Commonwealth Development Corporation. He is now treasurer of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. He does not stint on his work load.

I have a list of the papers and reports that the International Development Committee has published. It is too long to read out in full. It includes reports on Montserrat, Sudan, and women and development—I found that report especially important. My hon. Friend has not shirked difficult issues such as the Ilisu dam and Mozambique. Three reports are currently under consideration. They cover HIV-AIDS, corruption and the globalisation White Paper. I trust that the Secretary of State will ensure that the election is not called before my hon. Friend has an opportunity to complete them, because the next Conservative Government will rely on their outcome. We can all agree that my hon. Friend's wisdom, knowledge, dedication and commitment are a credit to the House and to international development. He will be sadly missed.

The Bill seeks to anchor the goals of the Department within the framework of the reduction of poverty. As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon said, we do not oppose the main theme of this legislation. We share a common goal, and we recognise the commitment of the Department, the Secretary of State and her Ministers. I miss my exchanges with the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), who is now the Minister of State, Scotland Office, but I look forward to my exchanges in Committee with the new Under-Secretary.

We wish to explore the areas between the lines of the Bill and highlight issues that might be helpful to the Government and could contribute to our shared goal of reducing the pain and suffering of the poorest people throughout the world. Our methods may differ from those of the Government from time to time, but our ultimate aims do not.

The central plank of the Bill is poverty reduction, and we need to explore with the Secretary of State how that new emphasis will affect the Department and our development work. Let us take the example of good governance that has been mentioned again and again in the debate. The Government have not made governance a priority in the Bill. However, to lift a country and its people out of poverty, it is indisputable that one needs a framework of competent and responsible Government, open and accountable institutions and the rule of law. When good governance goes out of the window, poverty quickly rushes in through the door.

One has only to look at Zimbabwe, which was mentioned by several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent. In Zimbabwe last week I saw productive farms that had been reduced, in less than a year, to little more than patches of dirt, producing so little that they can hardly support the squatters' families who have prevented the legal owners from planting and producing food. A farm that only last year could produce an income to support the many now struggles to provide sustenance for just a few. The destruction and the absence of good governance are an open invitation to famine and destruction.

In the light of the Bill, we need to ensure that democracy building, good governance and the activities that ensure the development or maintenance of legal systems can definitely continue. Indeed, I hope for reassurances on activities such as Customs and Excise operations, which are essential in relation to drugs, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will bring to the Standing Committee an assurance that such activities will continue. We need to know what activities are acceptable, and what activities will fall within the parameters of the Bill.

Commendable though the poverty focus may be, nowhere in the Bill do we find a definition of poverty. That issue was raised by several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford, who spotted it first. In the absence of such a definition, we need to know, for example, how there can be any clarity concerning the parameters to be set by the Secretary of State, and how we can discover which countries and which peoples would qualify for, or be denied, aid under the Secretary of State's new formula. The hon. Members for Stevenage and for Clydebank and Milngavie raised that point earlier, and we shall need to explore the issue in more detail in Committee.

We shall also need to know how the new focus affects our international relationships. Many hon. Members raised the issue of how the Secretary of State will deal with the European Union aid budget. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon pointed out that the bias in expenditure is towards the relatively rich countries of the Mediterranean and eastern Europe, rather than towards Asia and Africa, where most of the world's poorest people live. As 30 per cent. of the Department's budget goes directly to the EU aid programme, how will that expenditure be justified when the legislation sets out different aims and objectives and, certainly, a different set of priorities for the UK aid spend?

The reform of the EU institutions may well be on its way. We wish it good speed, but progress has been painfully slow and I am not holding my breath waiting for it. This legislation will be in place before the reforms are anywhere near completion. We know that the Secretary of State cannot reduce the amount of money delivered through the European Union; she will therefore be on a collision course with it. I hope that the Minister will tell us in Committee how the Secretary of State will deal with that anomaly.

I want to touch on two matters of particular concern to me: the British Council and the overseas territories. Both are in need of guidance from the Department as to their future status. The relationship between the Department and the British Council has fundamentally changed since the Department was split off from the Foreign Office. Indeed, the value of contracts between the Department and the British Council has fallen dramatically, from £62 million in 1996–97 to £23.3 million in the last financial year, and we need to examine how the Department's actions have affected and will affect the British Council's activities.

Back in 1997, the Secretary of State referred to the British Council in the White Paper as a key partner in developing and implementing programmes", but unfortunately the rhetoric does not necessarily match the reality these days.

Clare Short

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, because she keeps returning to the issue of the British Council. There is a muddle over its role. The British Council, which is a fine body, is the cultural arm of British diplomacy. It was funded by the two Departments, but we transferred our funding to the Foreign Office because it is inefficient to have accountability to two organisations, as I assume she knows.

The British Council also manages a lot of activity for us. That activity varies and does not relate to its core budget. It depends on the effectiveness of the management of a particular project. There has been no diminution of the British Council. The hon. Lady is obsessed with the issue, but she does not seem to understand that the British Council is not a development agency. It is the cultural arm of British foreign policy and it performs that function extremely well.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

It is an aid organisation.

Clare Short

No it is not.

Mrs. Gillan

I wish the Secretary of State would let me develop my point, because British Council operations are being slashed—in Namibia by 37 per cent., in Zambia by 33 per cent. and In Malawi by 45 per cent. The country directorates in Belarus, Ecuador, Lesotho and Swaziland are closing. Three offices in Nigeria will shut and £18.6 million is being spent on redundancy and ancillary payments to make redundant 800 locally appointed staff and 100 staff in the UK.

All that is happening to a "key partner", but what is happening to the Department in some of those locations? Is it scaling down its operations? Is it redirecting aid elsewhere? No. British Council operations face reduction, but the Department is increasing its presence. It appears that the Department is trying to ensure that it replaces the British Council and substitutes for it in certain areas. Indeed, under the Secretary of State's stewardship, the Department has grown by 323 staff since 1996–97, which is a considerable in,,trease. The administrative budget will have grown by £9 million, to £74 million—a sum greater than the aid given to any country in 1999–2000 apart from the top three recipients of bilateral aid, and greater than the money given to Bangladesh, Mozambique, Sierra Leone or even South Africa.

I asked the Minister a question about the British Council and he had the decency to write to me after he had inadvertently misled the House in an answer. Perhaps he will take time to examine the British Council's case carefully and give the reassurance that we seek that the Department is not empire-building at the council's expense.

I must refer briefly to the overseas territories, and in particular, to the implications of the poverty focus for aid to some of the islands. Although many overseas territories are economically self-sustaining, certain issues still concern them. I hope that the Minister will clarify the Department's attitudes to the overseas territories and give us the reassurances that we seek. Despite the wording of the White Paper, they do not know where they stand in terms of priority for aid from the Government; and their fears were epitomised by the reaction in the early days to the volcanic eruptions in Montserrat. Questions still remain over long-terns development aid and there is particular concern over the lack of such aid for housing. Perhaps we can consider that in Committee.

St. Helena is another example. For many years, it has been agreed that further economic development will be difficult to achieve unless access is dramatically improved either by an airfield or by a wharf development project. That contention has been supported by every business plan undertaken for the island. Considerable funding would be involved in such a project, but it would provide for the significant economic development that would allow St. Helena to become economically independent. I hope that the Minister will say in Committee whether such a project would stand or fall under clause 1. Will help be forthcoming to the island, and when can the islanders expect a decision?

I hope that the Minister will still confirm that there will be no cuts in the Department's overall budget. I hope—especially on a day when the Prime Minister is making such a fuss about his environmental credentials—that there is no truth in the rumour that cuts may be made in the global environment facility fund for the overseas territories, because that fund makes available money for environmental conservation. Given that Britain's overseas territories protect some of the most important wildlife sites in the world, any reduction or elimination of that fund would be nothing short of a disaster. I hope the Minister will confirm that there will be no change, and indeed that the possibility of supporting wildlife and environmental projects will remain after the passage of the Bill.

It is almost the end of term, and we are now writing the Department's report. There have been many plaudits for the Secretary of State and her Ministers, and rightly so but it is a little sad that, despite all their good intentions, there have been so many failures. There has been the failure to be tough on corruption, and to introduce the promised legislation; there has been the failure to tackle waste and mismanagement in the European Union. The Government's own debt-relief targets have not been reached. Members have referred to the absorption of teachers and nurses from developing countries, and to the fall in the percentage of gross national product that is spent on aid.

It seems remarkable that, three years after the publication of the White Paper, there is finally a Bill before us. It is hardly a magnum opus, but I believe that it could make a difference to many people's lives, and it surely deserves better than being sneaked into the parliamentary schedule in the dying days of a Labour Government.

We will not vote against Second Reading; we will not seek to oppose the Bill. We will, however, seek to improve it in Committee.

9.47 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Chris Mullin)

We have had a good debate. The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) started well. Like others, he paid tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and that of the Department, and I am grateful for that. He said that we had a common goal, and that we were singing from the same hymn sheet. I am grateful for that as well, although I confess that the longer he went on, the more I began to wonder. He gave an undertaking that a future Conservative Government would not re-link aid and trade. I am grateful for that too, especially in the light of the last Government's shocking record in that regard, of which the Pergau dam affair is only the most glaring example. From that point onwards, however, the hon. Gentleman's performance became increasingly shameless.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) observed, the hon. Gentleman's critique of Government policy came ill from one who had supported a Government who abused just about every aspect of overseas aid, and took so little interest in the subject over nearly 20 years that they published no White Paper on it. I am sure we all welcome the rather slim document recently published by his party that the hon. Gentleman brandished, but I put it to him that it is just about all that that party has had to offer by way of strategic thinking on development during the past 20 years. At least he had the good grace to blush when, as he was telling us off for not presenting a statement as well as a White Paper, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) asked him how many White Papers had been published during 18 years of Conservative government.

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of points. I shall deal with the main ones; others may have to wait until the Committee stage. Like others, he asked why we needed the Bill. The short answer is that the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980 is outdated and open to misinterpretation; it provides for the use of only a limited range of financial instruments; and, most importantly, it no longer reflects the Government's focus on the elimination of poverty. Above all, the Bill will prevent future Governments from misusing aid budgets, as has sometimes happened.

The hon. Member for South-West Devon stressed the Conservative party's commitment to promoting good governance. I welcome that. However, when one sees senior members of his party—Lady Thatcher and Lord Lamont come to mind, cheered on by The Daily Telegraph—fawning over the odious General Pinochet, there is bound to be some scepticism about how deep that commitment to good governance actually is among everyone in his party. I do not question his motives or those of most Opposition Members who referred to the issue—[Interruption.] However, there is bound to be that scepticism. [Interruption.] They do not like it, do they? Have you noticed that, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Robathan

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Mullin

Not for the moment, because several minutes of my time were taken up by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan).

The hon. Member for South-West Devon very reasonably raised the issue of the scandalously inefficient European Community development programme. However, his protestation that Conservative Members can be relied upon to sort out those problems have to be matched against the inconvenient fact that it was a Conservative Government who, at the Edinburgh summit, agreed that the EC's share of our development budget should rise massively to 30 per cent.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development—who is not backward about coming forward—has been in the forefront of trying to reform the EC's development programme. I am glad to report that some progress has been made, although there is still a considerable way to go. [Interruption.] I do not think that we disagree about that, despite the heckling from those on the Opposition Front Bench. I can assure the House that we shall not relax our vigilance.

Meanwhile, the hon. Gentleman and other Conservative Members may take comfort from the fact that one of those charged with reforming the EC is their former right hon. Friend Chris Patten, who I know is much admired on the Opposition Benches.

I have one other point on the hon. Gentleman's speech. He raised, unwisely one might think, the current percentage of gross national product that is spent on aid. As we have already announced, we expect the figure for the calendar year 2000 to be about 0.29 per cent. We are on target to achieve our aim of 0.33 per cent. in the financial year 2003–04.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

It says here.

Mr. Mullin

It says that here because I wrote it.

Let me be the first to admit that that is a long way from the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent., but the essential fact is that we inherited a budget that was declining year on year, but it is now increasing year on year. If we are re-elected, it will continue to increase year on year. I thought that it was just a little cheeky of the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham to demand a guarantee from us that there will be no cuts. She represents a party that is committed to £16 billion worth of cuts. Goodness knows where they will come from, but it would not surprise me if one or two of them came from the aid budget.

Mrs. Gillan


Mr. Mullin

We shall see—or perhaps we will not.

I regret that it is not possible for me to respond to all the points that have been made in the debate—although I suspect that many of us are destined to meet again in Committee, where we shall have a chance to explore some of the more detailed points.

The contribution of the hon. Member for South-West Devon aside, we had a number of very thoughtful speeches. I join the tributes that have been paid to the speech by the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), who I know has taken a long and consistent interest in development matters. He will be missed when he leaves the House. He asked whether the Bill should define humanitarian assistance. I think that the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) made a similar point.

We believe that to embed any definition of humanitarian assistance in the Bill would unnecessarily constrain our ability to react quickly, to learn from existing programmes and to reflect those lessons in future ones. By doing so we would run the risk of making unlawful certain interventions that would contribute to reducing suffering. For the same reason, we think that it would be wrong to try to define poverty—but these matters can be discussed in more detail later. All we would be doing is attempting to make absolute concepts that are relative, as the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford recognised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington)—[Interruption.]—I am sorry that I mispronounced his constituency; it is the place where they have civic balls. My hon. Friend asked whether assistance should be limited to the poorest people in the poorest countries. The effect of that would be to constrain our ability to support good governance or the strengthening of financial systems, which are often among the most useful assistance that we can offer the Government of a poor country. We also recognise that pockets of severe poverty exist in the so-called middle-income and transitional countries.

My hon. Friend also asked whether DFID expenditure in eastern Europe would be subject to the same tests as other expenditure. I can assure him that it will. He asked why Northern Ireland is not mentioned in the Bill. I should clarify that the Bill does extend to Northern Ireland, although the Northern Ireland Administration recognise that they have no competence in international development matters. No statutory bodies for which the Northern Ireland Administration is accountable are currently listed in schedule 2 to the Bill. However, we recognise that such bodies could be added to the schedule in future. The Northern Ireland Assembly has asked that any consultation with the Secretary of State which might arise from the addition of such statutory bodies to schedule 2 and their subsequent activities should be handled under the memorandum of understanding in respect of devolved Administrations rather than requiring consultation under the Bill. The Bill reflects that position.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park was concerned about why clause 1(3) allows the Secretary of State to decide whether development is sustainable in her opinion. The hon. Lady missed out the qualification that follows immediately afterwards: having regard to the likelihood of its generating lasting benefits for the population of the country or countries in relation to which it is provided. That opinion must be reasonably held. If it is not, it may be challenged. If the Bill did not provide for the Secretary of State to exercise her judgment, the matter would have to be settled solely in the courts. I should add that the Secretary of State is answerable not only to the courts but, of course, to the House.

The hon. Lady also asked about the defence offset schemes. They could not be financed under the Bill as their prime purpose is to sell military hardware, and not to reduce poverty. She asked whether clause 5 paved the way for tied aid. It does not; its purpose is simply to set down the forms of assistance that can be provided. There is no requirement or implication that such assistance must be sourced from the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham asked about assistance to overseas territories. The Bill explicitly recognises the special relationship that Britain has with the overseas territories. It will allow the Secretary of State to continue to provide all types of support—including budgetary support—for the overseas territories. The Bill does not require any reduction in the level of resources available to the overseas territories and I hope that the hon. Lady will not stir up any mischief on that point.

In conclusion, we have a good story to tell. Under my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the British development assistance programme has been transformed. We inherited a budget that was declining year by year; it is now increasing year by year. Our development programme is no longer a tool of foreign policy, still less a tool of trade policy. DFID is an independent Government Department with its own seat in the Cabinet. Our assistance is now firmly targeted at the poorest people in the poorest countries, and the Bill will ensure that it remains that way.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.