§ Order for Second Reading read.5.36 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 legislatively to entrench poverty reduction as the overriding aim of United Kingdom development assistance and to ensure that with two exceptions, which I shall come to, money for development assistance is spent for that reason alone.
As hon. Members know, the reduction of poverty has been the guiding principle of all our development efforts since 1997. That central objective and the clarity of focus that it brings have been widely supported in debates on the Bill in the House and in the other place, and by the International Development Committee and the public.
Under existing legislation, the Secretary of State could change that policy without reference to Parliament. She has an undesirable amount of flexibility in using development assistance resources, and a future Secretary of State could, for instance, reinstate a policy of tying aid, thus distorting its use and decreasing its efficiency, or use the aid budget to pursue other short-term political or commercial ends.
Clearly, any future Government have the right to change policy, but given the growth in our budget and in parliamentary and public support for our poverty reduction focus, I believe that any future Government should be required to seek Parliament's approval for a shift away from poverty reduction as our central policy objective.
We should continually remind ourselves that one in five of the 6 billion people who share the planet still live in abject poverty. With the abundance and knowledge that exist in the world, it shames and disgraces us that such poverty and inequality continue. Although that is perhaps the most important moral issue of our time, it is also a practical issue which engages our interests. If, in our increasingly globalised world, we fail to deal with such division and inequality, we can expect even more instability and environmental degradation, which will endanger our future and that of subsequent generations.
Since 1997, the United Kingdom has led the international effort to place the systematic reduction of poverty at the core of the whole international development effort. We have not only focused our bilateral programme on poverty reduction, but worked throughout the international system to achieve a global commitment to focus it on the systematic reduction of poverty in every developing country.
There has been much progress. All the main players in the international development community, including the World Bank, most multilateral development banks, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the G7, have agreed that the international development targets, which are now incorporated in the millennium development goals, should 275 be the central objective of the collaborative international development effort. Those goals were reaffirmed at the UN's millennium assembly.
We firmly believe that an international development system dedicated to those goals can greatly improve current performance and that the targets are achievable if we focus our efforts and improve our effectiveness. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) has received my letter, but the world is already on track to meet the goal of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty between 1990 and 2015. That will enable 1 billion people to lift them selves out of extreme poverty.
The World Bank projects that, on present trends, the proportion of the population of developing countries living on less than $1 a day—I should stress that that is less than the equivalent of what a dollar a day buys in the US; in other words, it is a tiny income—will fall to 12.3 per cent. in 2015, compared with 29 per cent. in 1990. That will be a considerable achievement, but it depends on a continuing commitment to reform focused on poverty reduction led by the developing countries the themselves and supported by the international community, and we must be clear that it will still leave millions in abject poverty.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
As I understand the briefing that I have received, $1 a day was an income target at an earlier stage and there was no significant change in the number of people living on that income over the 20 years following the start of that development programme in 1960. How can the Secretary of State be confident that that situation can be so dramatically improved today when the proportion of those in poverty—living on less than $1 a day—was similar in the 1980s to that in the 1960s? We must also bear it in mind that $1 a day purchased more in the 1960s than it does today.
§ Clare Short
In the past 30 years, there has been great progress in poverty reduction across the world and more human beings have made the journey out of extreme poverty to a better life in the past 50 years than in the previous 500 years of human history, but world population has grown massively, from 1 billion in 1960 to 3 billion in 1990 and 6 billion now, and we are moving towards 9 billion.
Although we have made progress, there has also been massive population growth. That is partly because we have made progress: people live longer and children survive, so there are more human beings living in extreme poverty. There is a paradox—we have made great progress, but there is more human suffering. From our progress, we can learn how to scale up our efforts and take them to more people. The only way to reduce human suffering and to stabilise world population is to improve people's lives and give them a chance to get their children, particularly the girls, educated.
The measure relating to $1 a day was worked out on purchasing power parity in 1988—I am speaking from memory—so that one could compare, country by country, what people bought with the equivalent of $1 in their country with what could be bought for $1 in the US. It is a tiny amount, but that information is updated by comparative studies made across the world.
276 In 1990, we set the target of halving by 2015 the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, and we are on track to achieve that. By then, 1 billion people will have made that great journey, but millions will still be living in abject poverty. We shall not have finished the task by 2015, but we will have shown that we can pull the whole international system together to improve its performance and that we have in our hands the capacity to work systematically towards the elimination of abject poverty from the human condition. That is what we are trying to achieve with our current efforts.
To achieve this aim, we need to improve the way in which international development assistance is provided. Old-fashioned aid is provided by funding large numbers of well intentioned but disconnected projects, which leave little sustainable impact, and which, through the accounting and evaluation requirements of large numbers of individual donors, use up the capacity of frail administrative systems to improve the quality and effectiveness of their own administration.
Clearly, that old-fashioned system was well intentioned—it took some money, set up charitable projects and brought relief to the suffering poor—but when the money runs out, the projects collapse and there is no sustainable improvement in the effectiveness of Government services in the countries that receive such assistance.
We are working with others to focus the international approach to development assistance on backing up poverty reduction strategies drawn up by the Governments of developing countries in full consultation with their people. Those strategies seek to combine macro-economic and social policy objectives to ensure that resources from tax revenues, debt relief and aid funds can all be directed towards a much stronger effort to improve services and economic management. When the economy grows, revenue levels rise and better sustainable services can be provided by those countries' own government systems to supply education and health care for everyone.
Such refocusing will require international development efforts to have systematic poverty reduction as their objective, as enshrined in the Bill. That is a big shift in the use and effectiveness of development assistance, which we are trying to drive through the international system to increase our achievements.
As everyone knows, the House has approved a reversal in the decline of the UK development budget that occurred during the 1980s and much of the 1990s. Since 1997, the UK effort has increased from 0.26 per cent. of gross national product to 0.33 per cent., and my budget has increased from £2.2 billion to £3.6 billion. That increase has been provided on the basis that the resources will be spent on poverty reduction. It is right, therefore, that the legislation that underpins spending that money should entrench the requirement that those funds be used to contribute to poverty reduction, not on other objectives.
§ Tony Baldry (Banbury)
It is a welcome fact that UK development aid is increasing. For the first time in 40 years, our development aid budget is larger than that of France, but, in percentage terms, the United States still has a tiny aid budget—0.1 per cent. What can we do 277 collectively to persuade the United States that it is in its interest and that of the international community to engage further in development aid?
§ Clare Short
That is a very important point. There is $55 billion in the international development system, and we need that money to invest in giving Governments the capacity to run their economies and social sectors better so that they can grow their economies and liberate their people. Although this country is raising its aid budget to £3.6 billion, we spend £100 billion on our social security system, so increasing those resources should not be difficult for us. The US has the lowest aid budget of any OECD country.
Two steps can be taken. First, we should show that we are using aid more effectively. Many people stopped believing in aid when it was used to prop up corrupt regimes; that undermined commitment. If we can show that aid is being used effectively—that poverty is systematically being reduced and that more children are in school—we can reengage the public in believing.
Secondly, the other side of the coin as regards what happened in the US is the hope that something good comes out of the bad of 11 September. The mood of the United States was turning inwards, but there is now a growing understanding that the only way to make any country safe is to make the world more equitable and safe. That means reaching out to the poorest countries and giving them the capacity to offer hope for their people, rather than the hopelessness that sometimes inspires people to join ugly movements. Hopelessness is never an excuse, but it is a breeding ground.
I agree with the hon. Member for Banbury that this matter is a priority. We hope that we can get the international community to concentrate on international development, because that is right and because it is the only way to make the world safe. If we all work together, we may be able to make progress.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)
On the subject of priorities, the Bill focuses on the eradication of poverty. When the right hon. Lady decides which countries are granted aid and how much, to what extent is she motivated by their human rights record, particularly as regards the persecution of religious and other minorities?
§ Clare Short
We must first realise that the UK's direct bilateral budget, which is about half our effort, is part of an international system. Rather than trying to make our budget perfect, we must make the whole system work internationally so that historical patterns are complemented by others. So long as we ensure that everyone is adequately provided for, that makes sense. However, all the research shows that the most effective way to use aid is to focus it on reformers and where there are large numbers of poor people. Then, penny for penny or dollar for dollar, it is more effective in Driving up standards and reducing poverty.
On respect for human rights and minorities, which the hon. Gentleman asked about, when one looks across the world one sees that minorities tend to be the poorest. Therefore, focusing on the poor and giving them a better chance necessarily focuses on the needs of minorities, whether in Vietnam, China. India, parts of Africa or elsewhere.
278 So a focus on poverty automatically leads one to a focus on minorities.
The universal declaration of human rights specifically mentions political, civil, social and economic rights. It establishes, for example, every child's right to an education. Although the declaration was written in 1948, it also states that primary education should be free. If we focus on human rights, we must focus not only on people's right to speak, to be free from political persecution and to practise their religion, but, for example, on their children's right to go to school.
The truly difficult question, which I think that the hon. Member for Gainsborough(Mr. Leigh)has asked me before, is what to do in the most badly governed countries, where some of the poorest and most depressed people live. We cannot provide resources to their Governments because they would be mis-spent. We are working, therefore, not only to improve our ways of getting humanitarian relief to people but to strengthen people's capacity to demand change. That is difficult, but we have to do it; otherwise, we shall simply be turning our backs on the poorest and most needy countries and people. That would not do either.
§ Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)
Does the Secretary of State agree that respect for human rights depends on how well educated a population is, and that that depends on the relief of poverty in the first place?
§ Clare Short
I recommend that hon. Members who have not recently read the universal declaration of human rights re-read that document. It is the most wonderful piece of work, in both its writing and its conception. It tries to encapsulate all the basic rights that every human being needs to enjoy to have the dignity of humanity. Those rights include, for example, the right to speak, to practise one's religion, to be consulted on politics, to have respect for one's culture, to see one's children educated and to receive health care. People have the right not to be oppressed and a positive right to the things that enable the enjoyment of a decent life.
The universal declaration imposes on everyone in the international system a duty to try to achieve those rights for all people as rapidly as possible. The duty is placed first on each country's Government, and a further duty is placed on us all to seek a form of world governance that maximises the chances of all those rights being realised by all people.
I therefore agree with the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge)that education is the key factor in creating conditions in all countries that enable everyone to celebrate all those rights. Progress is always possible. If we are to make social and economic progress and to have a decent world, we should all be seeking to respect the rights of every human being, especially those of the poorest, the minorities and the marginalised.
§ Jim Knight (South Dorset)
The events of 11 September have been mentioned. I have read that the World Bank's assessment is that the attacks are likely to have an adverse effect on economic growth in developing countries both this year and next, which will increase by 10 million the number of people living in poverty in the 279 countries that my right hon. Friend mentioned. Does she agree with that assessment? If so, how will that affect the goal of reducing international poverty?
§ Clare Short
My hon. Friend is right—the World Bank has assessed the likely effects, and the statistics that he quoted are correct. Before 11 September, the world was heading into recession, and the world's two largest economies—those of Japan, which has long been doing poorly, and the United States—were experiencing a downturn. The danger is that the shock and the shaken confidence caused by 11 September will deepen that downturn. Although it will affect every country, the poorest countries can least afford to deal with it and with the resulting hurt.
That assessment is right. We must now try to create an upturn in the world economy—one that is equitable—and restore confidence. The successful launch this weekend of the Doha trade round would help that. An upturn in the economies of Europe and north America would help not only the people of those countries but the people of the developing world.
The world has, of course, changed. We used to talk about our own country's economy as though we could control it as a political issue. Now, not even the United Kingdom, let alone a poor country, can look after its own economy. Increasingly, we have the responsibility to try to manage the world economy in a manner that brings benefits to all, especially to the poor. Although we are experiencing a downturn, we must work to turn it round as rapidly as possible.
The current relevant legislation is the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980—a consolidating Act that Draws its provisions from 33 statutes. Much of it is outdated or obsolete. New legislation is required to update it to entrench the objective of poverty reduction, to provide new powers to support the building of civil society and a commitment to development in the poorest countries and in our own country, and to help the private sector in developing countries to build an economy that will grow and give people the chance of a better life and better public services.
The House will recall that, in the Pergau darn judgment, the courts found that the powers in the existing legislation were so widely Drawn that—in the court' s rather polite words—they caused the Minister to "mislead himself' into believing that he could use aid money to support economically unsound projects. Some political imperatives were connected to that misjudgment, which the courts held to be illegal. I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that we must ensure that that does not recur in any future Administration. We must also ensure that a future Administration do not reintroduce a policy of tying aid without having to change the law to do so.
The purpose of the work that we undertake—the reduction of poverty—will be enshrined in the. Bill, which will not allow priority to be given to commercial or political interests. Of course, all Governments have legitimate commercial and political interests, but the aid budget should not be misused to serve them; the aid budget exists for another purpose. Development assistance 280 should be focused on the reduction of poverty. Short-term considerations that do not contribute to a reduction in poverty are not permitted by the Bill. I am sure that the House will agree that that is a good discipline and that it should be imposed on all holders of my office.
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
The Secretary of State knows that not only do I generally agree with her on these issues, but I generally support the Bill. I should like to take her back to the difficult issue of poverty reduction, which is so critical. Is it not often the governance of many third-world, developing countries that leads to poverty? How much more can we do in our policy or in the Bill to stop poor governance and the Government corruption that lead to the poverty that we seek to alleviate by sending money?
§ Clare Short
The hon. Gentleman is right that, in the modern world, poor governance is increasingly a block on the economic growth and improvement in social provision that enable economies to grow and improve people's lives. That fact is truer now than ever before because of the increased availability of international investment and foreign direct investment. Such investment will go only where corruption is not rampant and where there is peace and proper enforcement of commercial contracts. Although poor governance was always undesirable, now it is an absolute block to economic development.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, more of the Department's efforts are being devoted to trying to improve the effectiveness of government. The quality of the management of the public finances is absolutely key. Better, more transparent management of public finances ensures that the available money is better used, and good systems ensure that corruption does not occur, although it may be a temptation.
We should all remind ourselves of one fact. In Ethiopia, for example, GDP per capita is $100 and 62 per cent., I think, of children who survive to five are chronically malnourished. It is very difficult to be a good Government in an extremely poor country, but Governments must strive to achieve that. We must all maintain the pressure, and we must all support and build better systems. Although efforts to provide for everyone and to maintain a democratic ethos must continue, it is difficult to do so in poor countries. We should therefore have some humility when considering these issues. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman was correct on his fundamental point: good governance is the key to economic growth and the provision of better services, which in turn enable people to improve their lives and make the reduction of poverty possible.
The House should be clear—sometimes there is muddle in the debate—that the overriding objective of poverty reduction does not mean that development efforts are restricted to the provision of social assistance or charitable handouts. The White Paper, "Making Globalisation Work for the Poor", sets out clearly the conditions needed to reduce poverty in developing countries. They include economic growth that brings benefits to all, not merely to a small elite, and the provision of appropriate quality Government services. So often in the past when we have said that the focus is on poverty, people have thought only of social policy. Securing a good macro-economic policy and a thriving private sector, however, is all part of bringing about enough economic growth to reduce poverty systematically.
281 To achieve such conditions, Governments need to be able to run effective states. They need, for example—this is the point that the hon. Member for Blaby (Mrs Robathan)was making—the capacity to manage their public finances well, and to raise revenues properly and fairly. They also need effective regulatory systems to provide the framework for a thriving private sector that can attract both domestic and foreign investment.
One of the tragedies of Africa, for example, is that 40 per cent. of domestic savings leave the continent. If it is not possible to bring about conditions in which domestic savings stay at home, it will not be possible to bring about the conditions that attract foreign direct investments. All those are key considerations.
The creation of a properly accountable security sector is crucial to the stability and security that are needed for economic growth and poverty reduction. We need police who enforce the law, and courts that enforce contracts and the like without being corrupt. Armed forces that are over-large or not democratically accountable often lead to instability, mis-spending and even military coups, and thus to the diversion of resources. Equally, the existence of a free and effective press is important to secure the democratic accountability that is necessary for the functioning of a successful modern state.
The Bill will allow support in all those areas to continue, as long as such assistance is designed to contribute to the reduction of poverty. We are, for instance, engaging more in security sector reform. We want proper accountability for the armed forces, and more effective and law-abiding policing. Such conditions are also key to the reduction of poverty: the fact that the Bill identifies that as our objective does not mean that we cannot engage in all the other complex areas of policy. The Bill does not in any way restrict the sectors in which we work, but it requires the purpose of our effort to be to generate institutions and policies that will lead to the systematic reduction of poverty. That is the test.
As I said earlier, there are two exceptions to the Bill's overriding requirement that poverty reduction must be the purpose of international development assistance expenditure. The first concerns assistance given to the overseas territories. The Government's responsibility for those territories goes beyond a commitment to help them to reduce poverty, although of course any assistance that we provide should include that objective. The requirement that assistance to the overseas territories must be likely to contribute to a reduction of poverty is therefore replaced by a requirement that our assistance must be provided for the purpose of furthering sustainable development or improving the welfare of their population. It will allow the Government to go on providing the territories with all types of support, such as direct budgetary support or support for the construction of infrastructure when those meet reasonable needs.
The second exception relates to assistance provided in response to disasters or emergencies. That is because such assistance will not in all cases be likely to contribute to a reduction of poverty. Disasters, for example, do not always occur in the poorest parts of countries, or in the poorest countries. If the requirement to provide humanitarian assistance always had to serve the objective of poverty reduction, our ability to move rapidly whenever people were in trouble would be restricted. The 282 United Kingdom has a very good record for speed and flexibility in its responses to humanitarian crises, and that capacity should not be put at risk.
The Bill also broadens the Secretary of State's powers to achieve the narrower poverty reduction focus. It provides a firmer legislative basis for the support of work that improves development awareness and advocacy. That includes what is done in our own country. I am pleased to note a growing cross-party consensus in the House that this is an imperative for the country, and that we should unite behind it. I think that the public care about these matters too, but need to be more informed about the way in which the reforms of trade rules and other arrangements can ensure that we make progress.
The United Kingdom could make an important contribution on the world stage in this regard, because of the kind of country we are. That is why we have increased our funding for development awareness in the UK: we want to secure that informed and deeply committed public support. Similarly, we want to help people in badly governed developing countries to understand their right to use democracy to demand better governance for themselves. We want to fund that kind of awareness among the poor, not just the provision of social services.
Under the existing law, we have had to fund such work under the annual Appropriation Acts rather than by means of mainstream legislation. We have been strengthening our work since 1997, but only with funds committed under those Acts. Henceforth, if the Bill is passed, it will be possible to fund it under the new powers that it conveys.
The second area in which the Bill extends existing powers is that of support for the private sector. Under current legislation, our powers are restricted to the provision of grants and loans, which are not always the best way in which to help enterprises become commercially viable.
The firm that makes Divine chocolate, for example, is a not-for-profit company involving Ghanaian cocoa producers and some of our non-governmental organisations. It wanted a guarantee from us, so that it could obtain a loan from the National Westminster bank to enable it to get its enterprise moving. We have no powers to give guarantees; we can only give grants. A grant, however, can undermine the discipline of a commercial purpose. We had to get special permission from the Treasury to give a guarantee. We are therefore taking the power to make such provision ourselves.
Similarly, micro-finance should not be funded only by overseas development assistance. We should be securing banking across the world to provide poor people with credit through mainstream commercial agencies, and we are doing more to encourage that. We need the capacity to widen the opportunities available to us, such as the taking of shares or the provision of convertible loans, options and guarantees. The Bill will enable us to support far more effectively the building of private sector capacity capable of contributing to the reduction of poverty.
§ Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset)
In earlier times, we might have considered some of the tasks the Secretary of State has described to be the responsibility of the Commonwealth Development Corporation. Does she see any future role for the CDC, or can we now write it off as a private sector bank?
§ Clare Short
Not at all. Legislation was introduced in the last Parliament—and, I think, supported by Members 283 on both sides of the House—to build on the CDC, but to try to use it as an instrument to secure more private sector investment in the poorest countries, where the private sector currently tends not to invest. The aim was to use expertise and commitment to developing countries to draw in such investment, and to parallel the public sector investment that was already there. The CDC is undergoing a restructuring with the aim of achieving that objective. The current climate does not make the restructuring easy, but we are making progress. Indeed, I had a meeting about it this morning.
We are talking about big, long-term investment, however. The CDC is trying to move more in the direction of equities. The objective is to strengthen, for instance, share-management capacity in developing countries, but to use the £1 billion of public sector investment to attract private sector money to countries that do not currently receive it, and show the private sector that a reasonable return can be obtained.
That is an important tool. It is not controlled by the Bill—earlier legislation has governed the restructuring—but it is part of the UK's commitment to our development effort.
§ Clare Short
I can give that assurance to the hon. Lady—I nearly said "my hon. Friend". I do not know whether that would have offended her.
§ Clare Short
As the hon. Gentleman may learn, it is possible to be fond of people across the Floor.
There has been some misleading writing, particularly in The Economist —not my favourite publication—suggesting that some of the restructuring is moving away from the poorest. The argument goes like this: in the poorest countries it is possible to obtain only a low rate of return, so the CDC should stay in old-fashioned agricultural investments with a very low rate of return, or it will turn against the poor. If that is true—and I do not believe that it is—it leads to despair. It means that the poorest countries will never be able to attract private sector investment providing the return that the private sector needs. I am thinking of pension funds and so on.
Often, agricultural investments with a fairly low rate of return are sold on to local people; they do not cease to exist. The CDC, however, is trying to become involved in more added value and equity to show that the private sector can go to the poorer countries. I assure the hon. Lady that we are still determined to use that instrument to secure more investment in poor developing countries: that is the purpose of the exercise, and there will be no diversion from it. Hon. Members must not believe everything that they read in The Economist.
§ Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East)
My right hon. Friend mentioned Divine chocolate and I wish to remind hon. Members that it is available in the 284 House of Commons. It is a wonderful chocolate and if hon. Members would like to buy some for Christmas, they would be assisting the cause in a positive way.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. I had not realised that this was a commercial channel.
§ Clare Short
I am grateful to my hon. Friend who, as well as being the best Parliamentary Private Secretary in the House, is also Chair of the Catering Committee. He has ensured that many fair trade products are available here, and that has been supported by hon. Members on both sides. I am sure that we are all proud of that chocolate and want to consume more of it, even though we have to watch our waistlines.
In the course of discussion of the Bill in Parliament and elsewhere, several proposals have been made for emphasising particular sectors or issues, such as a commitment to children, empowering women, or ensuring good governance. We have resisted all those pressures and will continue to do so. That does not mean that we reject the importance of the issues. Far from it; we agree that children are not only vulnerable but the key to future development, and that we must ensure that this generation of poor children has the opportunity of education and health care denied to its parents in order to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty. We recognise that, as Kofi Annan put it, poverty has a woman's face. Some 70 per cent. of the world's poor are women—and poor children often come from female-headed households—and securing girls' literacy is one of the most effective ways to combat poverty. We also agree that failings of governance, as I said earlier, are one of the major causes of poverty and wasted resources.
We still believe, however, that any attempt to entrench specific reference to the importance of those issues in legislation would weaken the capacity of my Department and impair our adaptability and flexibility. The flexibility of our current arrangements makes my Department one of the most effective and respected development organisations in the world, and the country is entitled to be proud of the Department. That was underlined just last month by the OECD's development assistance committee's peer review of our programme. The needs and performance of countries and regions vary, and we must be able to deploy our resources where they can best meet those needs and complement what other development partners are doing. Using legislation to tie down proportions of our budget, however well intentioned, would impair our flexibility and effectiveness. USAID has had that problem, because Congress has decreed that so much should be spent on this, so much on that and so much on something else. It is done with good intentions, but it leads to a lack of flexibility with every organisation having to ensure that its budget meets those proportions.
During the Bill's passage through the other place, some very misleading claims were made about the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the IPPF. In case that confusion extends to this House, I should make it clear that UNFPA is the largest UN provider of sexual and reproductive health assistance to developing countries. It works in poor countries across the globe. The fund provides support to enable millions of women in developing countries to go through pregnancy and childbirth more safely—maternal mortality still causes enormous loss of women's lives, which throws families
285 into poverty and is one of the big differences between developing and developed countries—and to improve neonatal survival. It is also playing a leading role in efforts to prevent the further spread of HIV-AIDS by increasing the supply of condoms across the world. UNFPA has helped to ensure that women in the most difficult of situations are not forgotten and get the services that they need.
The IPPF also provides much-needed family planning and sexual and reproductive health services through its family planning associations in many poor countries across the world. The reality is that without those associations, many women would have no choice in matters of their own sexual and reproductive health.
Both organisations do fine work that we support, and we should all honour what they do. However, despite the valuable and essential work of the organisations, there are those who would prefer that they did not exist, or that the Government did not support their work. Those critics' favoured route for attacking both organisations is to make false allegations about their programmes in China. The critics accuse UNFPA and the IPPF, and by extension the British Government—it is a cross-party accusation, because it was made when the Conservatives were in power, too—of supporting coercive family planning practices. Let me reassure the House, yet again, that those allegations are without foundation. Obviously, coercive fertility control is practised in China. We condemn such practices unequivocally. But those are the reasons why the work of UNFPA and the IPPF in China is so important. UNFPA's programme in China is designed to demonstrate that people can be provided with modern services and make their own choices about family size without coercion. That is the point.
The reality is that the work of UNFPA and the IPPF has led to real advances. A service in which women and men are provided with information and choice in their sexual and reproductive care is now being developed in 860 counties, which is about one third of the total number of counties in China. In 1995, only five counties were piloting that approach. Birth quotas have been dropped in all the counties where UNFPA is working. It is unlikely that those changes would have happened without the influence and work of UNFPA and it is vital that we continue to support its important work.
In conclusion, I remind the House that 6 billion people share this planet, of whom one in five are still living in extreme poverty with shortened lives, poor nourishment, lack of education and health care, and lack of access to clean water and sanitation. Some 10 million children die each year from malnourishment and preventable illness. Some 500,000 women die during childbirth for lack of simple medical interventions. Some 800 million people cannot read or write and 113 million children do not have access to primary education. That is the biggest moral challenge facing the world and that level of poverty and division endangers the future security of all our countries.
The Government have been working to focus the international community on a commitment to greater equity and justice across the world. We have made gains. We are on track to help I billion people make their way out of extreme poverty between 1990 and 2015, but that is not enough. World population growth by 2020 to 2030 will leave another 1 billion or more in poverty. On present rates of progress, we will not have all children in school, or access to health care for all people, by 2015. Much 286 faster progress is possible. The purpose of the Bill is to require that UK development efforts must be focused on the mobilisation of a strong international commitment to the systematic reduction of poverty. That is an area in which the UK can make an important contribution to international justice and security. I strongly commend the Bill. As I said on the occasion of its predecessor's Second Reading, its purpose is simple, but profoundly important.
§ Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden)
The events of 11 September have had a dramatic effect on the salience of international development, driving it up the international agenda. I wish to pay tribute to the work of the Secretary of State and her Department in keeping it high on the agenda. Since the House debated the earlier Bill, we are all much more aware, of the need to redouble our efforts to close the gap between rich and poor nations. It is, as my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) said, a common goal. My purpose today is to build on his good work and to help us towards our common objective.
Britain has a strong record as a major donor of aid to the developing world. We take our international responsibilities seriously, and that has never been more apparent than in the present crisis. We bestride three spheres of influence, with our Commonwealth, as a member of the European Union, and with our special relationship with America. What we say today about the purpose of development aid sends an important signal to the wider world. Ours is one of the world's leading industrialised nations, so the percentage of gross domestic product that we are prepared to spend has a major impact. Both main political parties are committed to reaching the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent. of GDP on development aid, but the problem with raw percentages is that they take no account of the state of the economy. If an economy goes into recession, the percentage devoted to development aid may rise, even if the amount of cash falls. Those raw percentages often disguise a patchy picture of development aid provision around the world.
The Bill offers a rare opportunity to debate the fundamental objectives of our international development programme. Millions of pounds are spent in the poorest countries of the world every year, and it is right to debate what that money is spent on and what we want to achieve. However, debates on international development should be about more than the amount that we spend, although that is important. They should also focus on what we should be doing. If we know our overall objectives, we are better able to target our spending and assess its results.
A clear sense of our objectives will be vital at the Doha conference on international trade. Britain's voice will be listened to closely, as we are a trading nation. Again, both major political parties argue that globalisation can be a force for good in the developing world, as it opens up markets and opportunities for developing countries to expand their economies through greater trade with the economies in the developed world.
Even so, we must be wary of initiatives that have not been thought through properly. The everything but arms initiative sounded good, but more work needs to be done on its practical consequences for producers in developing countries and here. That is especially important in relation to sugar. Failure to understand the markets for international 287 commodities and the interaction between developed and developing nations could mean that an initiative that sounds good could leave poorer countries worse off.
We welcome the statement that progress must be made on agricultural reform. We urge the Government to press their counterparts in Europe not to hold up the trade talks on that point.
There is a constant tension between the temptation of protectionism and the opportunities of free trade. We should take the lead in getting the matter right, simply because that is the right thing to do. In financial terms, opening up our markets and helping the developing world to achieve sustained economic growth through globalisation dwarfs all that the developed world offers in terms of direct aid and debt relief. However, that aid still adds up to vital relief. We must ensure that we spend our money in the right way. Critics sometimes uncharitably call that conscience money, but our aid in terms of debt relief is vital. I believe that it could be made still more effective, and we shall look for opportunities to achieve that with the Bill.
Debt relief is not a once-and-for-all action. The underlying causes of debt accumulation must be tackled, and we should direct our attention to them if we want to stamp out the cycle of debt. I urge the Government not to fall into the trap of saying that debt relief is complete: instead, they must continually audit the state of indebtedness of the countries that we help. What about the countries that do not qualify under the heavily indebted poor countries initiative? We must be careful not to exclude or ignore other ways of helping them. Our focus should be on sustainable development to reduce their poverty.
Unpayable debt is wrong because it restricts the ability of countries to move out of poverty. That brings us back to the core aim of the Bill. We agree that poverty reduction should be the central and foremost aim of the work of the Department for International Development. The Secretary of State referred earlier to the World Bank's view of progress in reducing the proportion of people living in poverty. No doubt that view was based on the world economic situation before 11 September. Is the World Bank's view that we are on target to meet the aim of reducing the number of countries in extreme poverty still true today?
Poverty means that people have no choices in life. It can make them victims of their surroundings, not masters of it. Poverty leads to powerlessness. It cuts people off from education and lays them open to human rights abuses. Similarly, in developing countries. millions of poor people die from diseases that compromise their immune systems and lay them open to opportunist infections that would not be fatal here.
The Bill will also need to stand the test of whether it will address the other problems that bedevil the developing world. Poverty reduction is the overarching aim, but will pursuit of that aim prevent proper attention being given to other key problems? For example, will poverty reduction give the Government better tools to tackle the appalling trade in young girls who are trafficked from places such as Ivory Coast to enter the European network of prostitution? Will it strengthen the 288 Government's capacity to clamp down on illicit drug production? Will it stop the constant flow of arms that stokes battle in areas of conflict?
None of those matters are addressed directly by the aim of poverty reduction, but they are the cause of very real misery in the developing world. If some of them are addressed by other Government Departments, what is there in the Bill to combine their work more effectively with that of the Department for International Development?
I assure the House that any suggestions that we make with regard to the Bill are intended in an entirely constructive spirit. I am not in the business of opposition for its own sake. We want the aims of this Bill to be achieved, and any amendments that we try to make to it will merely be an attempt to make a good Bill work better. We have this rare opportunity to legislate on international development, and we must judge the proposed changes to the law against the test of whether they will make the delivery of aid more effective.
That is why at all previous stages of the Bill in the last Parliament, and in another place, we pressed for the incorporation of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development convention on bribery and corruption in UK law. The United Kingdom is one of the 34 signatory countries to that convention, but it is unique among developed countries for not implementing it.
§ Clare Short
The hon. Lady will know that the Queen's Speech contained a commitment to legislate to ensure that British law does not put implementation of the convention in doubt. I did not believe the early legal advice that stated that existing law would be sufficient in that regard. Will the Opposition give a commitment to support the legislation when it is brought forward? I accept that she may not be able to do so now, but such a commitment would mean that the legislation could be brought in much sooner.
§ Mrs. Spelman
I thank the Secretary of State for that intervention, as it enables me to go on to say what I had intended to say in any case. The Opposition very much support the early introduction of the OECD convention, and there is no substitute for striking while the iron is hot. The introduction of that convention could be incorporated in this Bill. In my limited experience of Parliament, I know that it is better to have a bird in the hand than to wait for one in the bush. We therefore have no hesitation in pressing the Government to use the Bill as a vehicle for the introduction of the OECD convention.
As a reinforcing argument, let us look at the comments of organisations criticising Britain's tardiness in introducing legislative enactment of the convention. I am sure that the Secretary of State will know that, in June this year, Lawrence Cockcroft, chairman of Transparency International, an organisation of anti-corruption activists, said:It is high time the UK stopped dragging its heels in the fight against international corruption and put an end to the current situation where we have no adequate legislation to make bribery abroad a criminal offence.I know that the right hon. Lady agrees that there is a need to act on the problem, as she told the Select Committee on International Development that the view of the OECD convention taken by the Government was damaging 289 Britain's reputation. We can restore our reputation by using the Bill to implement the convention. That would be entirely consistent with the Bill's main aim, as I am convinced that it would lead to a reduction in poverty.
When the Bill was going through the House at the end of the last Parliament we were told that the main reason for not incorporating the convention was lack of time, but now the general election is out of the way, timing should be less of a problem. The Select Committee on International Development found that corruption was the No. 1 factor that deterred companies from investing in developing countries.
As the Government have ratified the convention, we should seize the opportunity to implement it by incorporating it in the Bill. Alternatively, with world events moving so unpredictably, and the need to introduce emergency legislation in response, perhaps we could use such legislation to implement the convention on bribery and corruption. Certainly we shall use the Committee stage as an opportunity to table an amendment that would make it possible for the Government to do that; I can give the right hon. Lady that undertaking.
§ Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd)
Were there no opportunities for such legislation during the 18 years of Conservative rule?
§ Mrs. Spelman
I must explain to the hon. Gentleman that the UK Government became a signatory to the UN convention on bribery and corruption during the Labour Administration—in 1998, if memory serves me correctly—so the opportunity to ratify it in law arose when his party was in government.
§ Clare Short
The House, and everyone else, should know that the convention requires all OECD countries, not just the UK, to make it a criminal offence to offer a bribe to a public official abroad as well as at home, and to cease to make bribery tax deductible. Is it not shocking that before the convention, in all the OECD countries all over the world, bribes offered abroad were tax deductible at home? That is what this is about. The convention is a breakthrough, and now we need to ensure that it is honoured in all countries.
§ Mrs. Spelman
The hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) has had it from both barrels, and I hope that he now has the clear impression that we strongly support the introduction of the convention to British law—sooner rather than later.
For far too long, patterns of aid giving were subordinated to UK economic and political interests. The Bill seeks to end the phenomenon of tied aid. I place on record my party's support for that. We would not reintroduce the practice of tying aid to UK political, economic or diplomatic objectives. Aid spending should be primarily based on need. Tied aid does not serve the interests of the third world, and on those grounds we oppose it.
Oxfam is concerned about the lack of specific detail in the Bill about aid untying, which receives no legal endorsement, although there was a commitment to it in the recent White Paper on globalisation. Some may think
290 that tied aid is a thing of the past, and I hope that it is, but we can never be certain that future aid will not be tied too closely to a broader political agenda.
§ Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)
I am pleased to hear what the hon. Lady said about tied aid. I do not want to go over history, but looking to the future, is she aware that an International Monetary Fund report recently found about 186 examples of tied aid in only 23 aid development programmes? Tied aid is still going on internationally. Will she not only support its abolition in this Bill, but at the World Trade Organisation talks and in any future international discussions, give her party's support to the Government and all the agencies in getting rid of it?
§ Mrs. Spelman
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. As I said earlier, this country is in the unique position of having at least three spheres of international influence, and we could use those to stress the importance of departing from the practice of tied aid.
We may not have to look too far afield to see opportunities to encourage countries with which we are in partnership or some other relationship, and to urge this action upon them. Indeed, the European aid budget is often spent for political reasons. The International Development Committee's report on European aid says:The fundamental mistake has been to allocate excessive funds in the first place for predominantly political reasons".One glance at the pattern of aid giving by member states reveals a pattern that, not surprisingly, reflects the history and self-interest of the countries concerned.
Trying to achieve agreement to give multilaterally proves much more difficult, however. Recently, multilateral giving through the European Union was heavily criticised by the European Court of Auditors as cumbersome and over-centralised. If we are asking the European Union to depoliticise, to speed up its aid delivery and to reduce waste on aid, we must be sure that we set a good example ourselves. The Bill will enable us to move positively in that direction.
§ Mr. Leigh
My hon. Friend will recall that the Secretary of State reminded us that the world's poorest are often members of persecuted minorities. I entirely accept that, as my hon. Friend says, the traditional way of tying aid is wrong, but does she think that we should take cognisance of the human rights record of countries to which we are considering giving aid?
§ Mrs. Spelman
While my hon. Friend was speaking, the conundrum of Burma came to mind. Its Government have an unacceptable human rights record, and we know that within it there are persecuted minorities in desperate need of humanitarian relief. That is the kind of acid test that I would like to address in Committee, to ensure that the drafting allows us to find a way to meet the real needs of the minorities in a country whose Government have a record of obstructing relief for those who need it. His intervention has drawn attention to an important test against which the Bill must be measured, and that is what we shall do in Committee.
We are all concerned that the right schemes should get funding for the right reasons. As I have said, we endorse the aim of reducing poverty, but we are concerned that some projects that do not have poverty reduction as their 291 first and foremost function may be adversely affected by the Bill. One way of ensuring that they continue to receive funding would be explicitly to mention good governance as contributing to poverty reduction. Schemes that work to reduce corruption or to support customs and excise functions would then be secure.
We should seek a clearer definition of certain terms in the Bill, which relies heavily on the Secretary of State's interpretation of what would reduce poverty. I understand that that allows flexibility; she explained that that was the benefit. Ultimately, however, it is her interpretation that will decide where her Department can and cannot allocate spending. No doubt we shall be told that that will be set out in guidance to the Bill, but we rarely have sight of such guidance when we scrutinise legislation.
The other term that might be worthy of definition is "humanitarian". I remind hon. Members that one of the chief aims of the Bill is to ensure that aid is not used for political or diplomatic leverage. With humanitarian aid it is easier than with most other kinds of aid to misuse aid spending to serve a wider political agenda.
Humanitarian aid, like other forms of aid, should help all who are in need, whatever their political or religious standpoint. It might be better if the Bill reflected that principle. We are concerned that, without a proper definition of humanitarian aid, some necessary help may be prevented.
One example is the war aim of the coalition partners in the present crisis to reconstruct Afghanistan—an aim that we wholeheartedly support. We do not know at what time reconstruction may be able to commence, although we have pushed hard for it, because it must happen if ordinary Afghans are to believe that our war is not with them. We need to think carefully about what form it should take. May I suggest to the Secretary of State that, cost and risk permitting, we might jointly visit Pakistan to make a better assessment of how British aid could be deployed in the rebuilding process? Given the destruction in Afghanistan, even before 11 September, it is likely that reconstruction will be a long process, going well beyond the immediate humanitarian crisis. It would be a pity if the process of reconstruction were curtailed prematurely because of the way in which humanitarian aid was interpreted.
The principal reason why we support the Bill is that it will ensure that the Department for International Development's spending goes on worthy projects. It is the policy of both main parties that international development spending should increase to the UN guideline of 0.7 per cent. of GDP. It would be tragic if the funds that we have were wasted on projects that sustained poverty or did not focus on development.
In another place, their Lordships raised the issue of overseas development aid being used to help regimes that perpetrate human rights abuses. The right hon. Lady referred to a certain amendment and its outcome in the other place. This is a difficult area, and I choose my words carefully when I reiterate what Baroness Rawlings said. Although we want women in developing countries to have access to the best possible help with family planning, we do not support a policy of coercive abortion and sterilisation.
292 We must be careful that any change to the legislation that we might propose would not prevent much of the good work done by organisations such as the UN Population Fund, to which the right hon. Lady referred. No one, I am sure, would wish to see a suspension in the help to victims of HIV and AIDS, as they are provided with advice on their sexual health. It is significant, however, that the United States Congress Committee on International Relations is holding a series of public hearings on the subject. As far as I am aware, our International Development Committee has never held an inquiry on this. Might I suggest that we would be in a better position to judge what impact the Bill would have if a Special Standing Committee could briefly precede the Standing Committee and take evidence beforehand? That is not a ploy to delay the Bill's passage but simply a way of getting to the bottom of this important issue upon which, as far as I am aware. Parliament has not received direct evidence.
I am glad to have the opportunity to debate international development and what we are spending our budget on. It is supremely important that we make the right choices in this matter. Important steps have been taken in the reduction of poverty. More people have been relieved from poverty in the past 50 years than in the previous 500. We support, without stinting, the aim of reducing poverty in the third world. We want a drastic reduction in crippling poverty as one of the defining features of the 21st century. To achieve that will require consistent and determined effort on the part of the Governments of the world. I hope that the Bill, once we have improved it in Committee, will help the UK Government to play their part in this most important process.
§ Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston)
One thing among many that impressed me about the speech of the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) is that I think that she demonstrated that eight months is indeed a long time in politics. When her predecessor sat down after his contribution to the debate at our last attempt at introducing the Bill, I said that he was extremely mean-minded. Nobody would dare say that about the hon. Member for Meriden. She has been generous and constructive, particularly with regard to the OECD convention, and I look forward to progress in that respect.
I welcome the Bill, as I did last time my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State put it before the House. It is about poverty reduction, which is pivotal to the aim of the United Kingdom development assistance programme. She touched on the huge challenges that exist. We see conflict, drought, famine, a growing population and the compelling issue of globalisation. I was pleased that that was addressed today not only at Prime Minister's Question Time, when my right hon. Friend made a plea for access to markets for developing countries, but by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when she spoke about the forthcoming conference in Doha. We wish the conference well in its considerations and her well when she makes her contribution.
I believe that the House and the country alike will support as a matter of urgency the Government's determination not only to reduce poverty but to eradicate it—consistent with the title of the White Paper that my 293 right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development produced towards the end of 2000. A Government who are determined to tackle social exclusion at home are all the more likely to fight poverty abroad and to be convincing as they approach that task. In my view, a Government who are set on reducing health inequalities for children in Coatbridge and Chryston are a Government who have the moral authority to improve the life chances of babies born in Karachi or Cambodia. I believe that that is central to the Bill.
In June 2001, after our last attempt to introduce the Bill, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees published a report on refugee children in Africa. Its conclusions are chilling for the world's children. Poverty is at the heart of the problem. The report says:Countries of asylum where the proportion of refugee children exceeds 60 per cent include Angola (69%), Togo (64%), Guinea (63%), Burundi (62%), Rwanda (61%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (61%) and Sudan (60%).I know that my right hon. Friend the. Secretary of State is to the fore in seeking to challenge that picture.
UNICEF produced a report with children at the heart of its thinking. I draw it to the attention of the House because it is relevant to the Bill. The report, entitled "State of the World's Children 2002", outlines progress made during the 1990s towards goals set at the 1990 world summit for children. It says:a decade that had begun with promise had been marked by missed opportunities".It says specifically that over the decade the absolute number of malnourished children in sub-Saharan Africa actually increased. Between 1990 and 2000, the mortality rate for under-fives increased in 14 countries, nine of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Again in sub-Saharan Africa, only 47 per cent. of children are immunised against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus. A woman in sub-Saharan Africa faces a one in 13 chance of dying during pregnancy and childbirth. Finally, the report said that AIDS
is destroying families, communities and nations, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Women and girls are the fastest-growing group of new HIV infections. Sub-Saharan Africa is hardest hit. Here, life expectancy is plummeting.As we face that challenge, it is right that the reduction of poverty should be at the heart of our approach and that we should endorse measures to address what is happening in the developing world.
The hon. Member for Meriden referred to Afghanistan. We have—rightly—held several debates on that country and, no doubt, our focus on Afghanistan will continue. However, even prior to the events of 11 September—indeed, on 4 September—the UN produced a report, "The Deepening Crisis", which drew our attention to what was happening in Afghanistan and what was of concern to Afghans at that time: the war that had gone on for more than 20 years; the refugee problem; and the inability to ensure that food was delivered to those who needed it. Although the difficulty has increased immeasurably since 11 September, it would have been important none the less for us to address the problems of Afghanistan tonight.
One of the issues that has been raised in another place—I shall refer later to the discussions held there—is close to my heart, as many hon. Members know: disability. Baroness Wilkins drew attention to its importance during debates in the other place, and it is also important for us to consider what the issue means for us 294 and what can be done. The World Bank estimated that about one fifth of the world's poorest people have disabilities. UNESCO studies tell us that only 1 to 2 per cent. of children with disabilities receive any education. With 300 million disabled people in developing countries—often hidden away—it is not surprising that Howard White, the author of the 1999 "Africa Poverty Status Report", concluded that disability was the hidden face of African poverty. He was right, and that point is also relevant in our debates on human rights.
The Bill encourages us to discuss humanitarian aid. There is agreement on both sides of the House that aid—like debt relief—has often helped the interests of the donor rather than those of the recipient. My right hon. Friend is anxious that her Bill should avoid that outcome.
The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) was correct in his intervention: by increasing the focus on international development, Parliament has done that cause a great service. Furthermore, Parliament has enabled us, without being patronising, to invite other European Union nations, and those members of the international community who are able to participate, to emulate what we are trying to do. It is important to them in respect of world peace and in bringing about the kind of world in which we assume that they, too, want to live.
I welcome the provisions that allow the Secretary of State to give guarantees and acquire securities as well as to dispense grants and loans. I know that my right hon. Friend will continue constructively to question the EU—as she has done in the past—about how funding is made available, how it is spent and where the accountability that we all want comes into the picture.
I also welcome the Bill's emphasis on development education. We all know of, and have particularly recognised during these recent unfortunate weeks, the tremendous role played by the aid agencies: Oxfam, Care International, CAFOD—the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development—and in Scotland, SCIAF—the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund. They, among others, are playing a vital role as non-governmental organisations are expected to do—and indeed do—to ensure that humanitarian aid is made available not to Governments for prestigious projects but to those who need it, thereby continuing that attack on poverty that we are all determined to pursue.
I congratulate the Overseas Development Institute for its focus on these matters, especially its emphasis on empowerment—a point mentioned by my right hon. Friend—including empowerment for women in the developing world as well as elsewhere.
My right hon. Friend clarified the issue of tied aid. I quote briefly from her intervention on my speech on Second Reading of the previous International Development Bill when she said:If tied aid is supplied, the goods or consultancies procured have to go back to the providing country. All the World Bank research shows that that creates a gross inefficiency and aid is reduced in value by 25 pet 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.—[0fficial Report, 6 March 2001; Vol. 364, c. 187.] We very much welcome the progress made on that in April.
295 I congratulate the Government, especially my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for International Development, on their remarkable contribution on world debt, which lies at the heart of so many problems. The reform of the heavily indebted poor countries initiative is welcome and it is right that we should continue to review it. My right hon. Friends have pushed for 100 per cent. bilateral write-offs with considerable success.
The goal that the Government have set for the reduction of world poverty—halving it by 2015—mean that dealing with debt is crucial. Solving that problem is of the utmost importance and we look forward to even greater achievements in the months and years to come.
Today and on other occasions, several right hon. and hon. Members have referred to previous debates on the Bill in another place. Lord Judd said that he wanted a more definite date for the achievement of the 0.7 per cent. of gross national product target. That is not in the Bill, nor would I have expected it to be, but perhaps the time has come to make a bit of a push on that—perhaps 10 years could be the target. There is something to be said for that and, in principle, I should welcome the setting of a definite target if the opportunity arose.
In the same debate, Lord Hughes, with his immense knowledge of South Africa, made the point that there should be stronger support for the South African Government's medicines control Act—a model of WTO-compliant but poverty-focused legislation—to increase access to medicines for the poorest people, providing a balance to a purely commercially driven policy. There is something in that. South Africa is offering us as many lessons on dealing with such matters as it did on the achievement of democracy. The country has a colossal influence on development policy in the third world, including the rest of Africa.
In the House of Lords debate, the strong view emerged that, to make certain that globalisation helps the poor and does not increase inequalities, Britain's development policies—especially on Africa—will sometimes have to take precedence over vested interests. I know that my right hon. Friend will push that view forcefully in whichever forums she is given the opportunity to speak. Some people are concerned about Angola. That problem must be addressed, notwithstanding the other problems in Africa.
The growing concern about the environment was reflected again today during questions on the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. That is something on which the House should continue to focus.
I end with a question to my hon. Friend the Minister. I work closely with our friends the Kurds, and I wonder whether in view of the concern that 60,000 people will be affected by the Ilisu dam, he is in a position to give us some more information about it. That would help those of us who are worried about it.
I wish the Bill well. It is practical. It is inspiring. It offers hope to developing countries. That is welcome because disenchantment has prevailed far too often in the past.
§ 7.1 pm
§ Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)
Just after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, I made a speech to my party conference and reflected on the plight of the Afghan people, who were engulfed in 20 years of civil war and for three years had suffered drought and famine. It was at the same time that I talked about bombing Afghanistan with food. I was interested and relieved to see today that the World Food Programme is talking of airlifting food during the winter.
Millions of people had been on the verge of starvation. The aid agencies warned of impending catastrophe for months, yet hardly anyone in the world was listening. In 1999–2000 the United Kingdom bilateral and multilateral aid to Afghanistan was less than £6 million. That was quite good by international standards. Between 1997 and 11 September this year, £32 million of humanitarian assistance went to Afghanistan, but that was mainly to the refugees already escaping to Pakistan and Iran.
In my role as international development spokesman for my party, I am struck by one sad fact over and over again. International development issues catch the world's attention only when it is far too late; when the emergency occurs, it is too late. In the case of Afghanistan, we paid attention only after the horrific attack on the world's richest country on 11 September.
Before I became a Member of Parliament I was a doctor, as many hon. Members know, and I always found that prevention was better than cure. Yet the health service still ploughs masses of money into heart surgery, brain surgery and incredible high-tech dramatic stuff, not into the unglamorous health promotion and prevention that would stop the diseases happening. How true that is, too, for international development. Prevention is the unglamorous bit; the treatment is the thing that catches the world's attention.
We have a brilliant Department for International Development. I acknowledge that it is respected all over the world, and I have heard compliments paid to it all over the world. We have a Secretary of State who never pulls her punches, and even calls me friend on occasions, yet the United Nations target for spending on international development is 0.7 per cent. of GNP, as we all keep telling each other, and few countries have reached that target. We certainly have not. Attempts are being made, but we certainly have not got there. The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), the Chairman of the Select Committee on International Development, said that the United States of America of all countries could probably afford to increase substantially the proportion of GNP that it gives to development. The point was well made.
Without a financial commitment wholeheartedly and generously funded before emergencies occur, the world can only hope to see more wars, more poverty, more famine, more refugees roaming the world—most of them women and children—and more asylum seekers struggling to escape to a better life. That is why the Bill is so important. It states clearly, although boringly at times, what we are about—reducing poverty, furthering sustainable development and improving the welfare of people all over the world. That the other place could not 297 pass the Bill in July amazes me, but then the antics of the Conservatives are a mystery to everyone, even the Conservatives
§ Dr. Tonge
Nevertheless, it could have gone through.
The Secretary of State referred to the problem that the debate last week in the other place was almost entirely on coercive family planning in China. The general tenets of the Bill were not addressed. I disagree with the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman). We should not let wonderful international family planning and reproductive health programmes that are helping to fight AIDs, executed by the United Nations Population Fund, the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International—organisations all dear to my heart—be hijacked by people who have a particular and very sincere religious conviction. That is the basis of the problem.
I have some reservations about the Bill. I refer the House to the debate in March this year when the Bill had its first Second Reading for details of those. I was most concerned then about tied aid. The Pergau dam scandal sticks in all our minds and hearts, and we will never forget it. The then Under-Secretary of State for International Development was most helpful and organised a party of civil servants from the Department for International Development and the Treasury to meet me in private and apply the thumbscrews to make sure that I fully understood the Bill. I guess that they almost convinced me that the Bill was tied aid-proof, but just in case I asked a young woman lawyer of my acquaintance, Alison Griffiths—watch that name—to approach the matter independently. She did not have a background in development. She did not listen to me first; neither did she listen to DFID or any of the debates. I quote her remarks for hon. Members' interest. She said:Following this legislation, any aid which was thought to be tied could be challenged through the courts as being contrary to the spirit of the statute and therefore contrary to the intention of Parliament when the Act was passed. The intention of Parliament would be determined through 'ministerial pronouncements' and records of debates.I therefore was able to rest my case. I thank everyone for the efforts that they have made to convince me, but I hope that when the Minister replies we will have one more ministerial pronouncement that tied aid will never appear again in this country.
Will the Secretary of State tell us whether her Department has had to make any promises of aid to any of the countries of the coalition supporting the action in Afghanistan and, if so, where and how it could be covered by the Bill? I discount the offers of debt relief and humanitarian relief of course, but it is important to establish who is paying, especially for debt relief to Pakistan and humanitarian aid to refugees inside and outside Afghanistan. I hope that the money is not all coming out of the budget of DFID.
§ Clare Short
The hon. Lady is right to say that we were making commitments to Afghanistan, but they were not massive. We had difficulty spending our money in Afghanistan because UK nationals were targets; we were trying to build up our programme, but underspending. 298 I have had an extra £15 million from the Treasury in addition to my normal budget. She always asks this question. It is good to be clear.
We have made commitments to support Pakistan's continuing reform agenda, but that is not a reward for supporting the coalition. Since its formation as a state, Pakistan has been so misgoverned, plundered and corrupted. For example, it has never completed an International Monetary Fund-World Bank programme. A major reform effort of enormous importance to a very poor country is under way, and I have made commitments that are tied to that continuing reform effort. They are not a reward for the position taken on Afghanistan, but there is a danger that Pakistan could be destabilised by the crisis in Afghanistan. That would be a tragedy because there is a serious reform effort under way.
§ Dr. Tonge
I entirely agree with the Secretary of State's worries about Pakistan's being destabilised by the current action, and I thank her very much for that useful explanation.
The other reservations about the Bill will be dealt with, yet again, in Committee, and I hope that it will soon become law. That will be a proud moment for the Secretary of State; it will be the first international development Act of Parliament since 1980, and I think that the previous Chairman of the International Development Committee said that that Act was a pretty pathetic measure. I remind the hon. Member for Meriden that 18 years of Conservative government brought none of the measures on bribery, arms control or tied aid that she suggested in her speech. None of those issues were addressed, and I am delighted by the conversion that has taken place in the Conservative party.
§ Mrs. Spelman
Following that observation, I hope that the hon. Lady will join me in congratulating my former right hon. Friend, John Major, on his efforts to raise debt relief and help for poorer nations higher up the agenda.
§ Dr. Tonge
Indeed, and I have acknowledged that fact in the other speeches on debt that I have made in the House.
I should like to remind the House what the Prime Minister said at the Labour party conference. While teaching the world to sing and in talking about Africa, he said that we mustprovide more aid, untied to trade; write off debt; help with good governance and infrastructure; training to the soldiers, with UN blessing, in conflict resolution; encouraging investment; and access to our markets so that we practise the free trade we are so fond of preaching.He said all those wonderful things, so we have to make further progress on debt. More money needs to go into the aid budget, and we need to reform the WTO and to have tighter export controls on arms, which will be discussed during the remaining stages of the Export Control Bill tomorrow—all of which involves doing all those things. It requires joined-up government, so that Departments act together to prevent catastrophes from happening.
The Prime Minister went on to say:But it's a deal: on the African side, true democracy",which the Conservatives are fond of mentioning,no more excuses for dictatorship, abuses of humans rights; no tolerance of bad governance, from the endemic corruption of some states"—299 all very good stuff, but let us remember that those faults can also be found in many of the countries that form the coalition against terrorism. That is conveniently forgotten at the moment. perhaps for very good reasons, but we must be careful not to apply double standards because that will not help us achieve the development goals.
The Prime Minister then said:The state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world."—indeed it is—But if the world as a community focused on it, we could heal it. And if we don't, it will become deeper and angrier.Indeed, it will become deeper and angrier, not just in Africa, and my children and grandchildren will reap the harvest. Let us hope that that was not just an attack of self-righteousness on his part, but a genuine change of direction, which will put the Bill and international development at the top of agenda for the rest of this Parliament.
§ Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)
In introducing the Bill, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State quoted the fact that the world population is now 6 billion, of whom 1.2 billion live in extreme poverty and 2.8 billion—almost half—live on less than $2 a day, but we sometimes become phased by the scale of the challenge and we lose perspective, so I should like to express the challenge in other terms. If we were to shrink the world to just 100 people, there would be 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 north or south Americans and 8 Africans. Some 70 of those people would be illiterate, 80 would live in substandard housing, one person would own a computer and just six people—all Americans—would possess 59 per cent. of the world's wealth, and 50 would suffer from serious malnutrition.
In considering those 100 people, I concur with my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge). Indeed, the Prime Minister, in his initiative, has insisted that if we do not include those eight Africans within our globe, we shall simply stack up problems for the future, and conflicts elsewhere will come right into the hearts of our neighbourhoods—it is a very small world these days. Our globe seems smaller and is more interrelated and vulnerable than perhaps we realised before 11 September, but we all now know that.
I shall repeat some of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke), who referred to the "State of the World's Children 2002". That report said that child malnutrition rates decreased by 17 per cent. during the previous decade, but the figure was only 17 per cent.—the target was 50 per cent. In sub-Saharan Africa, the absolute number of malnourished children increased and life expectancy at birth is now 47 years. Lives are shorter, not longer than they were in 1980, and the figure is going in the wrong direction compared with a life expectancy of about 78 years in rest of the world.
In all the World Bank's scenarios, which were published early in the spring of this year, the number of people living in poverty in Africa was estimated to increase by 2015—the crucial target date for the UN's international development goals. In other words, the needs 300 of the people of Africa are massively increasing. I simply suggest that sometimes aid inevitably follows the latest crisis, and as our attention inevitably turns to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the whole of that region, it is important to do our best to keep a focus on the increasing needs of Africa so that they are not lost from the agenda.
I welcome this straightforward but rather limited Bill. Its purpose is clearly defined as ensuring that development assistance is focused on reducing poverty, which is absolutely welcome. The Government have made excellent progress in international development. The Prime Minister stressed international justice and launched a new Africa initiative. At the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the Chancellor stressed the need to address poverty reduction internationally, and he has campaigned on debt. The Secretary of State is now known internationally as a champion of international development.
In December, the Department for International Development published the paper, "Eliminating World Poverty: Making Globalisation Work for the Poor". I had the privilege to represent the Government in south-east Asian countries at that time, and the document received universal acclaim from poor countries who described it as groundbreaking because it set an agenda for the 21st century. The words are in place; we now have to turn them into action.
The Bill is part of that process. Rather than defining the scope of development, it deals specifically with the authority to spend, and I want to focus on that. Some 25 per cent. of the Department's spending is through the European Union and the Commission. I was involved in such matters 25 years ago when the, European Court of Auditors described the spending of DGVIII, the development Directorate-General in the late 1970s and early 1980s as having weaknesses and shortcomings. That description appears in reports today. So the European Commission has not made much progress 25 years on in reforming the management of aid programmes. That becomes a greater and more urgent challenge with enlargement. The European Union needs to get a grip on those programmes, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend's Department will play a role in that.
I also put down a marker on the need to reform the institutions of the United Nations. In addition to political reform of the Security Council, we need to reform its management of programmes. We need constantly to review and assess how they are performing. People often shout for UN help, but we need to consider the systems by which it delivers.
§ Clare Short
Nothing can replace the UN; it is very important. It has moral legitimacy and represents the whole world. However, many of its institutions are inefficient. We have published a series of strategies for each UN agency that we fund on how the reform agenda must progress. We are using the leverage of our resources to help drive that forward. It is important to achieve that.
§ Mr. Battle
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that clarification. In the same way as we have given leadership in respect of the principles of international development, that leadership is crucial in their implementation, whether in EU or UN organisations.
Clause 6(3) deals with shareholder power, and I was grateful for my right hon. Friend's illumination of what that new power might entail. It is an imaginative instrument. 301 Opposition Members referred to the Commonwealth Development Corporation, and I, too, am worried that it has become a venture capital organisation that has lost its focus on poverty. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend says absolutely not. Can we keep an eye on it as we keep an eye on the UN and the Commission? We need to watch how it is used, because it is an important instrument.
Clause 4(2) relates to development education, which is becoming more important. It might sound surprising, but it is amazing how many people now know where Afghanistan is and could say that Pakistan is its neighbour. A few weeks ago, they would not have known that basic geography. There is a thirst and hunger for information about the corners of our globe that have been neglected. The network of development education centres that work with schools is a good template, but they need support. I encourage my right hon. Friend to do all that she can to ensure that they receive a solid underpinning.
Let us take that idea a stage further and consider not only attaching development education to school curriculums, with the help of the Department for Education and Skills. but building it into adult and further education. Adult education centres, colleges and institutions, including those in my constituency, which offer a range of courses such as languages, computer skills and hobbies could also offer development education. There is a need for that information because they cannot get it from a few short news bulletins on the radio and television.
It is vital to keep development spending at the top of the agenda. We need international support for it and for development programmes. The Bill is about the authority to spend. Development education could encourage discussions on larger portmanteau terms, such as sustainable development and poverty. There is a welcome debate to be had on what we mean by poverty. We could refer to Amartya Sen's ideas on poverty, such as capabilities and functioning, or to the human development approach. The debate could include a discussion on whether sustainable development relates only to environment or whether it has a more holistic approach. I like the Kenyan proverb on sustainable development which says that we do not inherit the world from our parents; we have only got it on loan for our children. The link through the generations can also be built into development education. We need to get support for more practical commitment.
The Bill's power is the authority to spend. The percentage of gross national product spent by the Government on development assistance is encouraging. The trend of cuts has been reversed. Between 1979 and 1997 we were well below the commitment to 0.7 per cent. Indeed, we constantly moved away from it. Had we continued the spending trend of the percentage of GNP that the Conservative Government inherited in 1979, we would be much closer to that target. Instead. however, we have 20 years to make up. I hope that my right hon. Friend knows that she has support in the House and the country as a whole to campaign to increase that proportion. The Dutch Government recently legislated that aid will be 0.8 per cent. of GNP. We hear much about the 2015 international development targets, but can we set firm mid-term goals for reaching that GNP target?
I mentioned in my caricature of a shrunken world the six Americans who would own a large amount of the world's wealth. Tables for development assistance show that the United States is a substantial donor, second only 302 to Japan, giving $9.58 billion. We give about $4.5 billion. However, in percentage terms, the United States gives only 0.1 per cent. of its gross domestic product. If it doubled that, it would be a massive increase. Perhaps by making an effort to increase our percentage we could encourage the United States to do the same. The percentage of 0.7 per cent. should remain the target figure. It is important and adds bite to the words and intentions, and enables us to carry the programmes forward.
Development is about tackling global poverty by moving from tied aid to poverty reduction, and that is most welcome. In the 1960s we had the UN decade to increase growth by 5 per cent. In the 1970s the target was set at 0.7 per cent. Neither of those were reached. In the first decade of this millennium we have the White Paper and the Bill. They should allow us to shift the debate to a higher plain and to canvass more support. International development is a centre-stage concern. Despite emerging crises, it could remain there, but we need to deepen and broaden the debate. We do not want it to be a technical debate; rather, we want it to receive public support. We can get wider support in Britain's poorer communities which understand that our world is interlinked. Our sign of serious intent is that we will put positive programmes into practice, as well as issuing policy statements.
It was encouraging that 24 million people from all walks of life around the world signed up to the Jubilee 2000 campaign. People have good spirits and good hearts, and are taking international development seriously. Perhaps the Bill, with its development assistance, is a step towards genuine development co-operation in the 21st century.
§ Tony Baldry (Banbury)
I am pleased to be able to follow the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle), a colleague on the International Development Committee, who made a powerful speech. I agreed with everything that he said. His caricature of the shrunken world was very effective, and the statistics that he gave on that world were particularly powerful.
The Bill seeks to signal that this country's international development budget is targeted at reducing poverty and is not intended to be a subsidy to UK exporters or UK businesses overseas. No one can dispute the urgency with which we need collectively to tackle poverty, and that urgency, I am sure, is shared by everyone in the Chamber, by Ministers and Opposition spokesmen alike and by every member of the Select Committee, which I am fortunate to chair. No amount of statistics can adequately portray the grinding, persistent poverty that so many fellow human beings have to endure. This September, I was fortunate enough to go to Burkina Faso as part of the Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation. I was struck by the exhaustion felt by so many people who are permanently on the margins of survival. It is sometimes difficult for us to imagine what that must be like.
Last Friday, the Financial Times observed in its editorial thatthe events of 11 September have triggered new thinking about aid for developing countries. Greater attention is being paid to those calling for more support from the developed world. The benefits of reducing poverty and antagonism towards the West have become clearer since the attacks on New York and Washington.303 The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) was slightly pessimistic. We now have an unprecedented opportunity to impress on decision makers throughout the world the importance of international development.
An article in The Observer last Sunday commented rather starkly thatthe United States is hated by poor nations because they believe the world super power manipulates global trade rules and imprisons them in debt. Europe with its huge subsidies to farmers and its tight protected markets is little better in their eyes.That is an overstatement, but it is certainly true that we all inhabit one world, in which we are all interdependent, and there is a moral duty on those who have to help those who have not.
The Bill, in addition to authorising development aid, enables the Government to allocate funds for humanitarian help. At present, considerable collective thought and much media attention is rightly being devoted to the desperate humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. There are two important points that, in our natural and understandable concern for our fellow human beings, we should not overlook. In this, I support the comments of the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke).
First, the UN Secretary-General declared as long ago as June that Afghanistan was the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. The international community has been aware since the summer that some 5 million people in Afghanistan would be in difficulties this winter because of continuing conflict and persistent drought. As various NGOs have explained, they would have expected a huge crisis in Afghanistan this winter even if the events of 11 September had not occurred.
Secondly, no one wants conflict, but such conflict as is taking place in Afghanistan would be avoidable if the Taliban simply complied with their obligations to the United Nations and with the resolutions of the UN General Assembly and the Security Council, going back as far as 1999, which require them to hand over Osama bin Laden for trial. As the Secretary of State said, it behoves us all to uphold the moral authority of the United Nations. As a permanent member of the Security Council, this country has a particular duty to do so, and Parliament has a particular duty to support the Government in discharging that duty.
Another important part of Parliament's work is to ensure that the reality of Government action matches the rhetoric of promises made by Governments in the spotlight of major international summits and conferences. For example, wealthy countries have promised to ensure that developing countries achieve the target of universal primary education by 2015. That pledge is clear and unambiguous.
At the G8 meeting in Okinawa last year, the communiqué stated:no countries seriously committed to education for all will be thwarted in their achievements of this goal by lack of resources.Parliamentarians, particularly those from G8 countries, have a duty to ensure that their Governments match reality to rhetoric because, despite the pledge, there seems to be little progress in ensuring that there is a global initiative to get all the world's children into schools. Today, 304 125 million primary school-age children are not enrolled in school. Limited debt relief, inadequate aid and the failure of many countries to prioritise education are all barriers keeping children out of school.
Even where there has been debt relief, it has not gone far enough. Of the first 22 countries to receive debt relief, more than half will spend more servicing their debts this year than they will spend on basic education. It is estimated that achieving universal primary education in those countries will cost $1.5 billion a year, yet they will spend a combined $1.8 billion servicing their debts in 2001. The world's neediest countries need deeper debt relief. We must fulfil promises made on debt relief.
We had an interesting and detailed debate on debt last week in Westminster Hall, in which the Financial Secretary made clear the Government's commitment to the heavily indebted poor countries, or HIPC, initiative. Over the weekend, I was re-reading the Financial Secretary's remarks in Hansard. He gave a fair and accurate account of the HIPC process to date. It was less clear whether the Government considered such progress adequate and, if more were needed, what must be achieved and how. He tantalisingly told the House that the Government "want to go faster" and said: "We could do more and are determined to do so".—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 1 November 2001; Vol. 373, c. 318WH.] However, he did not tell us what more they could do, where they could do it or how much faster they could do it.
We need clear, acknowledged milestones by which we can judge progress on debt relief initiatives, not just by the number of countries that benefit from debt relief, but by the extent to which they are doing so. This week, a parliamentary delegation from the Philippines has been visiting Westminster, as the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), the Father of the House, observed following a statement to the House this afternoon. On Monday evening, the President of the Senate in the Philippines, in a speech in Speaker's House, said that we need to stand shoulder to shoulder against international terrorism, but we also need to stand shoulder to shoulder against poverty.
The world's poorest countries need more aid. Between 1990 and 2000, aid from G7 nations fell, and overall is still falling. On average, G7 countries give only 0.19 per cent. of GDP to development aid—a pathetic amount. Indeed, every G7 country, with the exception, I am glad to say, of the UK, is now giving less development aid than it was a decade ago. It is fair to observe that the latest report by the development assistance committee of the OECD shows that, in volume, the UK is now the fourth-largest aid donor in the world and, for the first time for 40 years, is ahead of France.
However, as several hon. Members have commented, the DAC report also shows that the United States gives only 0.1 per cent. of gross national income in development aid. Collectively, we must work out how we can engage fellow legislators in the United States and persuade them that it is in the United States' interests to help to lift countries out of poverty. As the hon. Member for Leeds, West said, even if the United States simply doubled the percentage of GNI that goes to development aid, a substantial difference would be made to the total amount. Overall, the decline in aid from the international community seriously overshadows the modest extra sums that have been freed for poorer countries through the HIPC initiative.
The universal declaration of human rights could not be clearer. It states:Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages",but for millions of children that is an empty pledge. For them, access to education is not a human right, but an unaffordable privilege as parents face a multitude of fees, levies and payments. Let me give a simple, human illustration. In Burkina Faso, we met many street children—as one would in any poor country. When I asked why they were trying to raise money, many gave the interesting reply that they wanted to be able to pay their school fees. I do not think that they were dissembling; their answers were perfectly straightforward.
We must ensure that aid goes to those who need it most, because it does not always do so. I speak as one who in my party is known to be, to put it crudely, pro-European. The Bill does not cover the large sums of Department for International Development money that go to the European Commission as this country's contribution to European Union aid. Of that aid, the Commission allocates three times more to education in central and eastern Europe than to education in poor countries. That is not sustainable development. The issue must be systematically examined by Parliament. If the EU wants to give structural funds to accession countries hoping to enter the EU, a budget separate from the EU aid budget should be established.
What needs to be achieved is clear and straightforward, requiring no further meetings of the great and the good, and no further resolutions or promises. It simply requires countries to start delivering what they have already promised and agreed for the benefit of the world's children. As the Secretary of State said to me at the last International Development questions:We do not need more and more conferences and meetings across the world. We need to implement what we have already agreed."—[Official Report, 24 October 2001: Vol. 373, c. 267.]I entirely agree.
A further example of the need for Governments and the international community to deliver is the promises made at the 1995 world summit for social development in Copenhagen. The Secretary of State has stated her belief that the 2015 targets on poverty reduction will be met. I look forward to reading the detail of the letter on the subject that she sent me. We all agree that it is essential that we succeed in meeting those targets, but omens indicate that doing so will be difficult. Causes of concern include the fact that poverty in south Asia is falling at only half the rate needed to achieve the 2015 target.
At the 1995 world summit, Governments pledged to cut child death rates by two thirds by 2015. In fact, child mortality is falling at less than half the rate required to achieve that target. That is not some hypothetical future crisis: if today, Governments collectively were on track to meet the 2015 target, 1.7 million fewer children would die this year alone. I know that it is difficult to get one's head around such huge figures, but the deaths of those children are avoidable.
The crisis is especially stark in Africa. If current trends continue, almost 5 million children will die in Africa in 2015 alone—a terrifying and chilling but accurate statistic. The tragedy is that the world does not lack the resources needed to prevent children from dying unnecessarily, or failing to get into school and so not 306 getting an education. What the world appears to lack is the leadership and the political will needed to translate commitments already made into positive action.
International development should include the encouragement of trade as well as the delivery of aid. Oxfam argues, rightly, that trade hasthe potential to act as a powerful motor of poverty reduction.Oxfam calculates that every tiny 0.7 per cent. increase in exports from a developing country generates as much income as it receives each year in aid.
Decisions at the WTO conference at Doha will be important. The position was stated simply by the Financial Times in its editorial last Friday:Industrial countries must not forget the importance of their trade barriers in hindering progress in developing countries. The best signal that could be given to the poor would be a commitment at the World Trade Organisation meeting in Doha to tear down trade barriers in agriculture, basic goods and services.Strong stuff from the Financial Times.
The poor are often doubly handicapped in the board game of world trade. Often, the dice are loaded against them. To export, they have to do the equivalent of throwing a double six because of high tariffs set against them; and often they cannot get on to the board to compete at all because of subsidised food and commodities being dumped on their doorstep. We must remember that three quarters of the poorest people in the world live in rural areas and are largely dependent on agriculture.
I wish the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry every success at Doha. I listened carefully to what she had to say today, and I hope that on her return she will be able to tell the House that Doha was a success, but I fear that the omens are not good. The least developed countries group met last week in Geneva and expressed concern that none of its input was getting through to the Doha draft declaration. Perhaps proving the point that too little listening is taking place, Stuart Harbison, chairman of the WTO' s general council, stated that in any event the draft declaration was now final.
As well as concerns about agriculture and dumping—whether it be the US dumping cheap steel abroad, or Europe dumping cheap sugar abroad—there is an on-going dispute about the developing world's lack of access to cheap medicines. The issues are complex, but the statistics are stark: tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS kill 5 million people each year, most in developing countries.
If we are not going to get agreement in the short term on relaxing TRIPS, we have to make sure that the global health fund is well funded, that it works, that it is operational as soon as possible, that countries—especially those with profitable pharmaceuticals industries—make worthwhile contributions and that we persuade pharmaceuticals companies to become involved and make an appropriate contribution. I acknowledge that the Government have given $200 million to the fund, but it must not be a one-off donation. The UK, which has a large and sophisticated pharmaceuticals industry, should be willing to give additional sums in due course.
§ Mr. Simon Thomas
Does the hon. Gentleman know whether that $200 million is in addition to projected spending by the Department for International Development? Does he agree that it must be truly additional if it is to have the effect that he wants?
§ Tony Baldry
It is one of the characteristics of international development debates that those who 307 participate collectively exhort International Development Ministers to try to extract as much money as possible from their Treasury colleagues.
One of the useful aspects of the initiatives on debt is that the International Development Committee has, on occasion, been able to bring the Chancellor before it to talk about international development. There is no doubt that the current Chancellor, like his predecessor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), is genuinely interested and keen to see what he can do in respect of international development. One must hope that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is always as helpful and forthcoming.
Everything that we have discussed this evening requires a constant commitment to sustainable development, and clause 9 includes such a commitment. Interestingly, tomorrow the House will deal with the remaining stages of the Export Control Bill, in which the Government say that they cannot define sustainable development. Today, however, they can define sustainable development in the International Development Bill, which is slightly puzzling.
Of course it is right that our development budget focuses on the poor of the world and that that commitment is underpinned by legislation. The test of success, however, will not be the words of the Bill; it will be whether the international community collectively delivers on international obligations that are already in place.
§ Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall)
Although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not in the Chamber, I congratulate her on the work that she has done so far and on her down-to-earth businesslike manner. She has given evidence to the Select Committee on International Development on many occasions, and I can confirm that the relationship between Ministers and the Committee is reasonably good.
As a member of the Select Committee, I have seen for myself the importance of the work done by the Department and have witnessed at first hand the terrible living conditions in African countries, in the Indian subcontinent and, this year on a visit with the Committee, in Vietnam and Cambodia. The Department's work seems to increase day by day, especially in light of the attacks on 11 September. It is now working hard to deliver aid to the people of Afghanistan, despite the obstacles created by the Taliban, both before and during the current bombing campaign. All sorts of difficulties are being created to obstruct the delivery of aid in Afghanistan.
Recent events have created both short-term challenges and long-term opportunities for the Department and other donors. Western nations have now begun to reassess the security implications of providing aid as a means of reducing resentment in developing countries. Reducing poverty may not completely eliminate the threat from fundamentalists such as Osama bin Laden who, after all, comes from a comfortable Saudi background and is a rich man, but it will address the squalid conditions that can act as a breeding ground for those whom the terrorist leaders exploit as their foot soldiers. We have recently seen that followers of bin Laden are indoctrinating young Muslims to fight for Islam.
308 The new interest in aid needs to be directed wisely and correct decisions have to be made; the Bill consolidates the ability of the Secretary of State to ensure that that is done. The World Bank's yearly report, released this month, says that the long-term prospects of developing countries could be boosted significantly by removing barriers to trade. Its economists suggest that over the 10 years following liberalisation, world income could increase by as much as $2.8 trillion, with more than half those gains going to developing countries; that could result in 300 million more people being lifted out of poverty by 2015, in addition to the 600 million who would escape abject poverty as a result of normal growth. That forecast may be over-ambitious, but rich countries should be willing to dismantle the barriers that adversely affect developing countries, including subsidies, especially in agriculture, and high tariffs on selected products.
By addressing such issues, we can overcome what Patricio Aylwin, former President of Chile, last week told the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations was the "tragic failure" to reduce poverty. He said that the reasons for that failure are a lack of political commitment from richer countries, the failure of developing countries to help their own poor, and the wrong economic approaches. Recently, globalisation has become a controversial concept; we must work harder to make it work for the poor. Supporters of globalisation have to convince members of the anti lobby, some of whom are genuinely concerned about the effects of globalisation on developing and poor countries.
The events of 11 September may have reinvigorated the debate on aid, but they have also created dangers. For example, aid may now be granted on the ground of political expediency, rather than effectiveness in reducing poverty. In its rush to consolidate the coalition against terrorists, the west may be tempted to turn a blind eye to Government failures. The suggestion of generous debt relief for Pakistan—considered a key ally by the United States in the current campaign—from the Paris Club of governmental creditors is a cause for concern.
I urge the Secretary of State to use the discretionary powers granted to her in the Bill to ensure that this country rewards genuine efforts to reduce poverty. Alongside recognition for effective policies pursued by the Governments of developing nations, international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank should be allowed to act on their professional judgment, not on the political goals of their shareholders. For example, the IMF should not be pressured into relaxing its strict conditions for loans. That principle should also apply to bilateral aid. If a recipient knows that it has been guaranteed aid regardless of its actions, that can have the effect of creating a moral hazard.
In these increasingly difficult economic times, it is essential that we do not sideline international development. With countries across the globe sliding towards recession, and the already faltering United States economy being rocked further by the 11 September disaster, western nations may be tempted to lose interest in the near future. I hope that the Secretary of State will use the influence granted by the Bill to ensure that that does not happen. As has already been demonstrated in the USA under former President Bill Clinton, rich countries can be reluctant to reduce trade barriers, even in 309 prosperous times. During a recession, they are more likely to want to erect barriers against the perceived threats to their industries.
I urge the Secretary of State to encourage developing countries to focus on effective, achievable measures and to keep their eye on the ball. At its meeting in July this year, the former Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union, made a distracting effort to relaunch itself with a single Parliament and currency—an absurd idea in a continent racked by war and famine. Attention should be focused on reducing poverty, not grandiose schemes that are currently unworkable.
It is in our power to make life better for hundreds of millions of people all over the world. However, we must make the right decisions and be willing to see our efforts through to the end. Current political circumstances present a challenge to the world's democracies. I am sure that the Secretary of State and her Department will face up to it. As my right hon. Friend continues her good work, I wish her every success in helping the world's poor and needy. I support the Bill.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)
In a debate on the international development White Paper on 3 May, I said:This is a very important debate on a vital issue, and it is a wake-up call. If we in the west do not take more interest at the highest political level, we will reap the whirlwind".—[Official Report, 3 May 2001; Vol. 367, c. 1070]I was thinking of possible events in the coming decades; I did not think that we would reap the whirlwind so quickly. We face a crisis of terrorism in the world because poverty breeds fundamentalism, which breeds terrorism.
I want to repeat what I have said on several occasions in the House. It is vital that all of us—not only from left-wing but from Conservative traditions—articulate the point that the huge divide in living standards between the developed and the less developed world is one of the most important issues for the developed world. Those of us from a Conservative tradition must argue as strongly for, and be as committed to, the cause as those who speak from the left-wing tradition. It is therefore important for Conservatives to take an active interest in the debate.
The debate is rare because many of us can identify with much of what has been said by hon. Members of all parties. There is not much of a political divide so far. I want not simply to repeat what has already been said, but to deal with a special concern. I am as committed as anyone to reducing world poverty and to the Bill becoming law, but I have a particular anxiety, which I have expressed over many years in Adjournment debates, letters to high commissioners and heads of Government throughout the world, about human rights abuses, especially those based on religious persecution.
I asked the Secretary of State a question at the beginning of the debate because I wanted her to have an opportunity to tell the House that, in her anxiety about poverty, she acknowledged that human rights abuses and bad governance are often a root cause of it. I was pleased with her answer. She is a good Minister and when a Member of Parliament, even an Opposition Member, asks her a question, she tries to answer it. That is rather rare.
The Secretary of State did not say everything that I wanted her to say, but she made the important point that the world's poorest people often come from religious and 310 ethnic minorities. However, she did not take the next step. Perhaps I am being unfair, and the Minister can answer my question when he winds up the debate, but the Secretary of State did not go as far as I would have liked and say, "When I or my Ministers make decisions on aid, good governance and the persecution of minorities are always at the forefront of our minds." I hope that they are, because I believe that that is vital.
I want to illustrate my point with three countries: Vietnam, Egypt and Burma. In a parliamentary answer on 4 March, the former Under-Secretary at the Department for International Development stated that the United Kingdom gave more than £5 million a year to Vietnam, and that the sum wasscheduled to increase significantly over the next three years, in recognition of the Vietnamese Government's commitment to poverty reduction and social equity. Rural development is the Government's highest priority for donor support."—[Official Report, 14 March 2001; Vol. 364, c. 1009W.]However, Vietnam has an appalling human rights record.
I shall give one example. The Montagnard people of the central highlands of Vietnam are being persecuted. Members of that minority are being deported, arrested and tortured. I should be amazed if any of the £5 million aid that we give to Vietnam goes anywhere near the Montagnard people. Peaceful protests have been broken up. The persecution of an indigenous hill tribe is happening in a country that we support.
The Montagnard Foundation, a human rights organisation, reports:Today the devastation continues and we are faced with continued and sustained policies that exploit our homelands and persecute our race through forced assimilation, human rights violations and genocide enacted by the current Vietnamese government.I leave my argument for the Minister to consider. When we give £5 million to Vietnam, what steps do we take to remind the Vietnamese Government, if they need reminding, of the cruel persecution that they visit on some of their population? Do we use aid as a lever? I doubt it, but I should be delighted to hear from the Minister if I am wrong.
I could take examples from many countries throughout the world, but let us consider Egypt, which is quite a good example because it is relatively well governed. In a parliamentary answer on 25 April, the former Under-Secretary stated:Our budget for bilateral assistance to Egypt was –4 million in 2000–01 and is set to remain at this level in 2000–02".—[Official Report, 25 April 2001; Vol. 367, c. 297W.]We therefore give considerable aid to Egypt. Outright persecution or genocide is not happening there, but there is unacceptable discrimination against a religious minority—the Copts.
The Spectator states:Things are difficult for Christians here now. In Upper Egypt their houses are burned and they are sometimes attacked. In Cairo the other day three Copts were shot dead. Christians die because they are Christians: the third century is back. And yet we are in a country which still feels entirely stable despite the terrorism, and where passers-by call out 'Welcome' to foreigners.I choose the example of a country that is an ally to some extent, and which has a relatively moderate Government. The Government do not persecute the Copts, but there is unacceptable discrimination in, for example, employment.
311 There is a well documented case that proves that the Egyptian Government are not doing enough to protect this minority in their homeland. Egypt is very different from Vietnam and Burma. but are the Government using the £4 million or 5 million that they give to Egypt every year as leverage? Do they raise such issues with the Egyptian Government?
I have raised the subject of Burma in Adjournment debates and at Question Time. It is a shocking example of human rights abuses. We are considering what must be described as the genocide of the Karen people and Shan people in eastern Burma. There are appalling tales of thousands of internally displaced people and of brutal actions by the Burmese Government. What should the UK Government do? Should they say to the Burmese Government, "You are so appalling and brutal that we will give you no aid," and thus lose all leverage? Or should they try to direct resources and aid to those who are being persecuted by that Government? To answer my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), who leads for the Opposition: I do not think that we need to give aid to the central Burmese Government, but I think that we can help the people who are being persecuted. To be fair to this Government, I acknowledge that they are giving humanitarian aid to these people, but the amounts of money concerned are relatively small, given the sheer scale of the humanitarian disaster that is unfolding in Burma.
Those are three examples, and I shall leave the matter there. This is a subject about which I feel very strongly. We must be committed to reducing world poverty, but unless we have the moral courage to insist, as we hand out aid, on good governance, on respect for human rights, and on a determination that religious minorities shall not be persecuted, we are going to lose a powerful mechanism for improving the lot of minorities all over the world. I hope that when the Bill becomes law, and when our whole focus is on reducing poverty, we will always bear in mind the fact that poverty exists in so many areas of the world not for historical reasons, and not just for economic reasons, but because these countries are plagued by brutal and corrupt Governments.
§ Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I strongly support the Bill, which consolidates the Government's policy to ensure that our aid budget is poverty-focused and dedicated to reaching the international development targets. The Government's announcement of their intention to end the practice of tied aid is to be commended as a strong signal of our commitment to offer genuine assistance in a spirit of partnership with the developing world, rather than imposing a top-down solution, often with inappropriate and wasteful aid.
A cynic once observed to me that the level of the UK aid budget before 1997 bore an uncanny resemblance to the amount spent on the purchase of Hawk jets by the recipient countries. As the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) mentioned, many of us well remember the scandal of the Pergau dam case under the Tory Administration, in which aid funds were provided in return for a construction contract that had no economic benefit to the poor of that country. The World Bank has 312 estimated that tying aid reduces the real value of aid by 25 per cent., and the termination of the scheme will allow the Department for International Development to use its funds more effectively and fully.
Since 1997, there has been a shift in Government policy towards co-ordinating the work of all Departments involved in international affairs as well as the Department for International Development—be it the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Trade and Industry or the Treasury—with our international poverty reduction and social justice aims. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for International Development have taken a leading role at World Bank, International Monetary Fund and G8 meetings, particularly in expressing the need for a comprehensive and effective debt relief programme.
Only last week, The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, speaking on the forthcoming World Trade Organisation talks in Doha, stated:The round must benefit all developing countries—the smaller ones not just the larger countries. We must agree rules which genuinely reflect their different levels of development.I am delighted that the Government recognise that the issues regarding our trade policy are integral to the aim of poverty reduction. I acknowledge that the UK has played a leading role in ensuring that developing countries can participate in the World Trade Organisation as equal members. I particularly welcome the announcement that the Department for International Development has doubled the budget for investment in capacity building from £15 million to £30 million over the next three years.
But there is frankly still no level playing field in our global systems of trade. The poorest developing countries are expected to compete on equal terms with countries that operated for years behind protectionism while they industrialised. The liberalisation theory adopted by the World Trade Organisation is based on notions of supply and demand, in which consumers and suppliers negotiate a fair price in the marketplace, but that theory ignores the reality of the poorest people in, say, sub-Saharan Africa who have nothing to offer in the world marketplace.
The theory of trade liberalisation lies at the heart of the problem with an organisation such as the WTO. This is an economic model designed to maximise growth; only later did we develop the notion that poverty could be reduced by the trickle-down of economic growth. Achieving economic, gender or racial equality is well beyond the realms of the theory's own objectives. Certain services, such as the supply of clean water or education, can be seen as a right whether an individual can afford to purchase them or not. Companies will not be prepared to provide such services free; only Governments can do that. However, the notions of rights and democratic decision making are not an integral part of the theory.
We need to show in the current negotiations that all our international bodies are committed to poverty reduction as a principal policy aim. Even the World Bank and IMF have belatedly found themselves required to address this issue when justifying their policies, although there is still a long way to go in linking the new-style rhetoric of the poverty reduction strategy papers to the circumstances on the ground. As yet, the WTO has still to embrace a specific aim to reduce poverty; that needs to be the core of this week's talks if we wish to create true global security.
As I said earlier today in an intervention on the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the Department for International Development should, as a first step, 313 ensure that the Government require the WTO to carry out an independent impact assessment of the general agreement on trade in services treaty before there is further liberalisation. Such an assessment has been promised but not delivered. The poor of the world are entitled to see proof of the benefits of the current settlement before any further liberalisation is agreed.
If we in the European Union are to prove that we are serious about development, we must open up our agricultural markets and substantially cut the subsidies. I am pleased to see that the Government recognise that problem.
As I have said, the Department for International Development has recognised that more needs to be done to assist the developing countries' capacity to negotiate at the WTO talks this week but, sadly, the agenda is still set by the northern hemisphere. I was disappointed to read in The Guardian yesterday that the current draft agenda was set behind closed doors in a couple of meetings attended by only 21 of the 142 member countries, a pattern which was set in previous trade rounds and continues despite the fact that that—not the demonstrations going on outside—was the principal reason behind the collapse of the Seattle talks in 1999. This practice has caused the exclusion of the majority of WTO members from the all important agenda setting.
Too much influence still rests with the powerful multinational lobbyists who surround the WTO headquarters in Geneva and who continually seek to control the trade agenda. If we truly wish future negotiations to be transparent and democratic, they must be tailored to suit the capacity of those least able to take part. It is frankly disgraceful that 28 developing member countries have no representative at Geneva, and that many more have only one representative to cover up to 40 meetings a week. That is completely inadequate.
I call for greater consideration to be given to the need effectively to regulate multinational companies to ensure that sustainable development and true poverty reduction can be achieved. The world needs international trade rules, but to date they have favoured the narrow commercial interests of the north and of the largest corporations at the expense of the wider public interest and smaller economic enterprises. If we are to have a comprehensive settlement, we also need to consider an effective multilateral agreement on labour rights under the leadership of the International Labour Organisation, and recognition of the need for environmental controls.
We stand now at an important crossroads. We can either retain the status quo and risk greater economic insecurity and income disparity in the south, or take the more difficult choices to provide equity, sustainability and poverty eradication.
It should be remembered that the very poorest countries account for only a tiny proportion of foreign investment and, amazingly, they receive only a disproportionately small amount of aid. The European Union aid budget has been mentioned today. In the last few years, that has given less aid, rather than more, to the poorest countries. Opening rich countries' markets, although welcome, will be of limited value in the short and medium term, given that these countries account for less than 1 per cent. of world trade.
It is essential that we consider our poverty reduction strategy on a country-by-country basis and take into account the extent and depth of poverty that apply. As my 314 hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) said, more emphasis should be placed on increasing domestic and regional trade, rather than being principally on an export market directed at the northern hemisphere.
Urgent assistance needs to be given to the estimated 71 countries that suffer from unsustainable debts to allow them to provide basic services to their citizens and, just as importantly, to enable them to develop the economic infrastructure necessary to compete in the open market.
Only 23 countries qualify under the heavily indebted poor countries initiative and, to date, only 6 per cent. of their debt has been wiped off. That is disgraceful. We must be prepared to consider ever more radical and quicker debt relief if we are to have any chance of meeting our international development targets.
If we truly wish to eradicate poverty from the world, we in the northern hemisphere must be prepared to make real changes to our lives. If we want the next generation to benefit from a safer world, we must make those changes now.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
I appreciate the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin), who put her finger on an important aspect when she spoke about agenda setting. Some of us have now discovered that those who set the agenda have already predetermined the outcome. It is therefore important that the agenda should be set for the benefit not just of the donor but of the countries that need help.
I welcome the opportunity to give a Northern Ireland voice in this debate. It was said earlier that the poor are the most oppressed. It is fascinating that, per capita, the people of Northern Ireland, with a gross domestic product of about 80 per cent. that of the UK as a whole, will give more pro rata than the UK in international care and in charitable donations. Against that background, I shall press the Government to do more, although I support the principle behind the Bill.
Like the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), I was privileged this morning to meet in political discussions a delegation from the Philippines. I was fascinated to hear again the message that had been sent forth the previous evening about poverty. Mindanao, one of the least developed islands of the Philippines, desperately needs development because the young people—indigenous people as well as those of the Muslim community—are now prey to recruitment to world terrorism. The delegation made a plea that we help them to alter the infrastructure to improve development there. We were also told that, although the Philippines produces some delightful fruit, which by the time it reaches European markets is extremely expensive, the producers receive very little for their work. We must try to change the pattern of trade and marketing to help those who could be helping themselves.
Overseas development is a reserved matter. The Bill refers specifically to details relating to Scotland and Wales and says that there is a requirement to obtain the consent of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. Why not the Northern Ireland Assembly? Has it no role to play, or no authority to encourage people to work internationally? Schedule 1 contains a clear reference to health authorities and other bodies. Over the 315 years, our health authorities have sought to improve the quality of life in developing countries. Why does not the Northern Ireland Executive, to whom such powers are now devolved, have the same mention?
I have a high regard for the Secretary of State, with her concern for world development and the poor. I pressed her earlier on the question of targets that are not met. I am often asked by people in Northern Ireland why we have still not met the target of 0.7 per cent. of GDP. If one examines this country's budget over the years, one sees that the contingency fund was able to deal with issues that arose, but we were not able to increase our aid budget to meet the target that had been set.
Governments have a tendency to use international development money to promote their own political agendas. That struck us forcefully in Northern Ireland when American international aid, which should be used primarily to help developing countries, was used for political purposes by President Reagan to give us the International Fund for Ireland as a testimonial gift to Tip O'Neill, who was retiring as Speaker of Congress.
Developed nations must start to be more responsible and not look after themselves alone. Given this nation's Christian heritage, we should give more consideration not to self-interest but to the interest of those really in need. The Master said that the poor would be always with us. That is one of the issues that I was trying to tease out with the Secretary of State. There has been no appreciable change in the number of people throughout the world who live below the poverty line. In 1987, the target was $1 and in 1998, 1.2 million people were still living in extreme poverty on $1 a day. Simple mathematics shows that $1 went further in 1987 than it did in 1998, and it certainly goes even less far today. We must be more upfront in dealing with these issues.
Many points have already been dealt with and I do not want to repeat them for the sake of it. However, I wish to draw attention to one issue. In politics, and in some other spheres of life, we have a marvellous ability to use language to conceal rather than reveal. In relation to this Bill, I have seen a reference to the need to measure the development of reproductive health servicesfor all individuals of appropriate ages.What is the real purpose of reproductive health services? I thought that it was to assist in the production of new children. Sometimes, however, both in the United Kingdom and internationally, we seem to use the term in discussing how to ensure that children are not born.
For 50 years, China, for example, has maintained a policy of trying to restrict population growth. Now, its population balance is out of kilter. Its population is ageing and there are not enough young people coming along. I would like to think that reproductive health services are not intended to stop children being born by means of enforced sterilisation or other methods.
Other hon. Members wish to speak, and I know that we shall have other opportunities to develop our arguments in relation to the Bill, but I should like to know whether there has been a reassessment of the real need for and provision of official development assistance. If I understand the figures correctly, the United Kingdom has provided 25 per cent. of our aid budget through the European Union aid budget. Time and again, however, 316 we have been told that that budget has not been handled properly. Why should we allow 25 per cent. of the money that our people want to go to developing countries to be squandered and wasted by the European Union?
§ Roger Casale (Wimbledon)
I welcome the Bill, which will be a milestone in our changing approach to international development issues both in the United Kingdom and internationally. I also welcome the Bill's emphasis on the elimination of poverty, which from now on is to he the overarching strategic objective of all our development work, entrenched in statute, I hope, as an immutable goal.
No more will we have a situation in the United Kingdom, as we have unfortunately had under previous Administrations, in which overseas aid was given on the condition that it would be used to buy goods or even arms from this country. The Bill will ultimately help to boost our exports by making poorer countries richer, but not by offering the type of crass trade-offs between aid and trade that we have seen before. Instead, with trade liberalisation and the forgiveness of debt, aid will be one of the complementary instruments to liberate the potential of the world's poorest countries.
Despite my remarks about previous Administrations and past events, I welcome the cross-party support for the Bill. I know that the support that was voiced by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), is genuine and based on personal experience and support. I hope that that support will be sustained as we build on the foundation of this new Bill to expand our development work and development efforts.
I welcome too the Opposition parties' support for the Bill. We must all recognise that the elimination of global poverty has become not only a political project, but one of the great if not the greatest moral issues of our time. That point was driven home to me when, last year, I had the honour of leading a delegation of more than 20 Members of Parliament and peers to take part in a worldwide parliamentary assembly that was convened by the Vatican as part of the jubilee year celebrations in Rome. At the conference, I spoke of the lead that Britain is taking in promoting debt relief around the world, moving ahead of other nations to cancel debt owed to Britain by some of the world's poorest countries, and pushing the international community for faster, deeper and wider debt relief.
It is not only in the Christian faith that the moral imperative of eliminating debt is so emphatically stated. I think that there is a growing collaboration around the world between religious leaders of the great religious faiths, to make the elimination of poverty the central focus for the international community and for all international work, and to ensure that that objective of poverty reduction is placed at the top of the international agenda and stays at the top for years to come.
Underpinning that moral concern which is drawn from religious inspiration lies a strong and potentially universal conception of justice. We have an obligation to ensure that in moving to a world in which there is more economic growth and opportunity, we do not do so at the cost of the world's poor, or in a manner that leaves behind part of the world or prejudices and harms the interests of some of the world's most vulnerable people.
317 Each generation re-dedicates its commitment to those goals of global social justice and human rights, and the Bill represents the aspirations of this generation as we seek to rededicate ourselves to those aims. Those aims and goals are widely understood and shared in Britain, where so many respected non-governmental organisations have over the years established themselves as world leaders in the field. They include Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children and ActionAid, to name only a few. So much is done in this country by individuals and by charitable and voluntary organisations to improve the human condition of people around the world.
It is in Britain's best interests to respond generously to international crises and disasters. Despite our imperial past, we have a long tradition of positive engagement to relieve poverty, save lives, and develop and sustain communities around the world. I am pleased that the NGOs that I mentioned, and others, were so closely involved in the drafting of the Bill.
It is 20 years since a major landmark Bill of this kind was passed here, and even that—as we have heard—was a consolidating measure bringing together existing provisions. I was heartened to hear the Secretary of State say that we have subsequently worked to narrow the gap between rich and poor, although I hope that the Minister will give further statistics to confirm that.
Great progress has certainly been made, especially in improving the world's health, but, as has been said, more than 1 billion people still live in extreme poverty, of whom 70 per cent. are women; and 320 million children have no access to primary education. That is why it is so important for the world community to re-dedicate itself to the international development goals set for this generation, which include reducing by 50 per cent. the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015.
We now live in a world shaped by global economic activity and financial flows, from which no nation and no society can seek refuge. Well-intentioned as their concerns may be, the anti-globalisation protesters cannot themselves get outside the process of globalisation, and the same applies to the world's poor. Nor can we, in today's world, seek simply to compensate those threatened with poverty, living in poverty, or at risk of being left behind by the forces of globalisation.
Although $50 billion is now being spent on aid around the world, we shall never be able to establish a system of transfers that would compensate the poor for their condition or bring sustained relief. What we can do is refocus that aid, increase it, and put it to use through measures that will be effective in eliminating poverty, as the Bill seeks to do. We must learn to use the $50 billion as an investment, rather than just as money that we spend on the poor.
As well as committing public investment, we must open up the economies of the poorest countries to private capital and investment flows. We must work to invest in good governance and better public services in such countries—especially health and education—and in infrastructure to make them more attractive and more fit to receive the benefits of trade and investment flows rather than just aid.
That is behind the notion of sustainable development, which is being restated for the present generation in the Bill. It has been restated by the Secretary of State, who has spoken of lasting benefits for the population of the 318 country or countries for which provision is made. Our aid must be an investment that will sustain the development of the world's poorest societies for many years to come.
If we succeed in refocusing our aid as investment in the world's poor, we should then work to increase that investment. Despite all our efforts—despite the Department's increased spending—this country is still some way from achieving the United Nations' target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product being spent on aid. I hope that the Secretary of State will use the success of the Bill to set out a clear timetable for the reaching of that target very soon, and I also hope that that will have cross-party support.
There is, I believe, an overwhelming political, moral and practical case for refocusing our development assistance on the elimination of poverty around the world, and that is what the Bill will achieve. It will help to ensure that aid is provided in a way that will sustain the development of the world's poorest societies. We shall come to see aid as an investment that, over time, will help to close the gap between rich and poor, and alleviate the terrible suffering that is still so much a part of the human condition. As I have said, every generation restates its case for making the world a better place.
In the 19th century, my constituency played host to William Wilberforce, who lived in Wimbledon while he was working in this place for the abolition of slavery. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and her Department, under the leadership of Sir John Vereker, who is also my constituent, on the lead that this country is taking in raising the elimination of poverty to the top of the international agenda, and helping to reform not only the way in which UK aid works but the whole international approach to debt relief and aid. My right hon. Friend rightly has the support tonight of the whole House, and that of the vast majority of decent, caring people in Britain who want the Government to succeed in alleviating the plight of the world's poor and in entrenching the search for more global justice to make the world a better and safer place.
§ Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)
I recall speaking on Second Reading of the earlier Bill and on its later stages. Many hon. Members complained then that we had not had enough debates about international development, but somehow that complaint has not been heard tonight. I wonder why. Given that we are having a second bite at the Bill and that we debated the heavily indebted poor countries initiative in Westminster Hall last week, hon. Members feel that they have had an opportunity to make their comments before.
I take this opportunity to make some points on the Bill on behalf not only of my party, Plaid Cymru, but of the Scottish National party. We have formed a parliamentary group so I speak for both parties tonight when I welcome the Bill very much.
Two issues connected with the Bill have arisen following the events of 11 September. The first arises from the fact that many people in Wales have asked since those terrible events what the National Assembly can do to help. Many people have asked me whether the Assembly can provide development aid itself, or whether Wales can raise money for the needs of Afghanistan. I looked into the matter, but I regret to say that we have not yet had the devolution of international development to the National Assembly.
319 It is interesting, however, to reflect on clause 9, which was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), because it contains an element of devolution. There is a provision in the Bill for agencies such as health authorities—although we are abolishing those in Wales—health trusts or tourist boards, such as the Wales tourist board, to become involved in international aid, albeit in terms of agreements and not financially. In that context, I wonder whether it is possible to re-examine that issue, in the light of the concerns expressed by the hon. Gentleman, and whether the National Assembly could play a different and more practical role in helping its employees—for example—to become involved in international aid agreements. Certainly, one of the consequences of 11 September in Wales was a massive concern, led by the churches and supported by many others, to encourage aid from the Welsh people to go to the needy people in Afghanistan.
The second issue is the interesting concept, reflected by several hon. Members who have spoken tonight, that although we will get rid of tied aid through the Bill—now that the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) is content with it, so must I—some political influences on aid giving will remain. That is especially true of debt relief which may be tied to aid, and in that context what has been happening in the European Union is worrying. For example, the Minister and his colleagues will soon have to address the issue of the Ilisu dam. It has received a damning environmental assessment, but we still hear rumours that it could be given the go-ahead because of the need to keep Turkey in the international coalition in the fight against terrorism.
I am sure that it is important that we retain the support of Turkey, despite its history in countries such as Cyprus and Kurdistan, but it would be remiss of the Government to give approval for the construction of the Ilisu dam to ensure that Turkey stayed on board. The dam would destabilise the middle east and help create a humanitarian crisis in Kurdistan. It would exacerbate the water difficulties in the middle east and even perhaps lead to the possibility of water wars in the area. It would make the Pergau dam look like a puddle.
Labour Members have spoken a lot about the Pergau dam scandal. They should reflect on what the Ilisu dam could do for their Government. I am sure that they will pressure the Government to reject any export credit guarantees for that dam.
I come now to the meat of the Bill. We still have some concerns about its definition of sustainable development. I raised this matter on Report earlier this year, and Lord Judd mentioned it in another place. The problem is not so much that the Bill's definition is wrong but that it is not the definition most commonly used internationally.
I am sure that the Minister is familiar with the Brundtland definition, which states that sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. That has been accepted as the standard international definition of sustainable development for many years. The sustainable development strategy of the former Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions under the previous Government referred to the Brundtland definition as the international definition.
320 The National Assembly of Wales is under a statutory duty for sustainable development, even though the Government of Wales Act 1998 contains no definition of sustainable development. The Assembly has also come across the Brundtland definition, and in its sustainable development strategy states that that definition is the one that is most appropriate and workable.
The Standing Committee considering the Bill will be able to explore the question of why the Government have chosen the definition of sustainable development that appears in the Bill over the Brundtland definition. It is important to emphasise that the Brundtland definition is not narrowly focused on the environment. Social and economic factors must be taken into account in any decisions that the Secretary of State might make on international aid in the context of sustainable development.
It would be a good sign if the Government were to adopt the Brundtland definition. It is the most appropriate and telling definition of sustainable development and would give the Secretary of State enough freedom to make her decisions in the light of both environmental factors and of the very important social and economic factors.
I tabled an amendment on Report to include the Brundtland definition in the Bill, and the then Minister responded that it was too narrowly focused. I do not accept that, and the matter is well worth exploration in Committee.
We must all bear it in mind that, after warfare, climate change is likely to have the greatest impact on developing countries. The Tyndall centre last year released a report on the countries most affected by climate change, where sustainable development would best be targeted. The report found that the country most likely to be affected by climate change was Afghanistan. The present drought there makes it clear why the report came to that conclusion.
I come now to the WTO, and I associate myself with the telling observations of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin). She said that Britain should address the question of trade liberalisation and explained how it could be used to eliminate world poverty, and how it is not being used in that way at present.
I do not doubt that the Government's motives on that matter are clean, and that the White Paper on eliminating world poverty makes it clear that the Government believe that trade liberalisation in international development.
However, I am a sceptic about the present WTO system; I believe that the WTO is dancing to the tune of corporate America. We have seen a recent example, with the pressure put by the US Government on the producers of the anti-anthrax drug, Cipro, to cut the price that the Americans had to pay to a quarter of what it should be. I contrast that with what happened with anti-HIV drugs in South Africa. Double standards are being applied, and we need to address that within the WTO as a matter of urgency.
If we look at the history of global trade, we see that the poorest 20 per cent. get 1.1 per cent. of world income, while the richest 20 per cent. get 86 per cent. Although global trade has increased 17-fold over the past 50 years, Latin America's share of it has decreased from 11 to 5 per cent., and Africa's share from 8 to 2 per cent.
321 Although trade liberalisation could be said to be working in certain parts of the world—South Korea, for example, and the rest of east Asia—Africa, which all hon. Members tonight have accepted as one of the scars on the face of poverty, has not benefited from world trade. The WTO needs to realise that its current role in promoting economic growth by orienting economies towards boosting exports and attracting investment does not appear to be working for most developing countries, and certainly not for the poorest countries. Sub-Saharan Africa has lost 30 per cent. of its GDP over recent years, rather than gaining anything. Global trade liberalisation works in some places, but not for the world as a whole, and if the WTO is to do anything in Doha over the next few days, it must think about how it can reorient trade liberalisation for the benefit of the poorest countries, not just the richest countries.
Earlier today we heard a very positive statement by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, in which there was mention—no, I shall be generous and say that there was more than mention—of such issues. However, I am not convinced that they will be properly discussed this weekend. As we have already heard, the draft statement published by the WTO has already been accepted by the secretariat as the final statement. It is a real issue if the secretariat, in consultation with a small number of countries, sets the agenda for the WTO without listening to the whole membership.
§ Clare Short
I agree that we need to make the trade rules give more opportunities to the poorest countries. However, the WTO is only five years old; it was created after the Uruguay round, and three quarters of its members are developing countries. It does not matter what the secretariat says; if the countries involved do not want a round to be launched on the basis of that document, it will not happen. The WTO is an intergovernmental organisation. Of course the question of the different capacities of different Governments arises, but the organisation gives developing countries the chance to equalise the rules of world trade and make them fairer. That is what is important about what the WTO could deliver.
§ Mr. Thomas
I agree. I accept the principle of working within the WTO, but as her the Secretary of State says, the capacities of different countries are very different. We have already heard about how many members of staff some countries have working for the organisation on a daily basis, and how much influence certain lobbyists can have there. I welcome her comments and I agree with her, but we shall see what happens over the weekend. We shall see whether we arrive at a round that benefits the poorest countries.
I should like the Government to accept that trade liberalisation is not a goal in itself, but a tool for meeting the aim of worldwide sustainable development. We need a paradigm shift in thinking in the developed world. Perhaps the Secretary of State and her Minister have already made that shift, but at European Union level it has still to be seen.
We see that most clearly with the subsidies to agriculture, and the difficulties that we have in setting up a new system that would, in my view, benefit not only the farmers in this country but the developing world. To use the word in a different context, perhaps it is time for 322 protectionism for the poor. The launch of the Trade Justice Movement this week in the House was an important step in involving parliamentarians of all parties in the developing discussion of what might be happening in the WTO.
We must look at our agricultural subsidies and how they exclude trade. We must also look at the general agreement on trade in services and how that can work properly in developing countries. In Mauritania, for example, 20 per cent. of the household budget is needed to pay for water following the privatisation of water services.
The WTO conference also needs to look at TRIPS, or trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights. It is important to support patenting in order to develop new drugs, but it is also important to recognise that generic copies of vital drugs are essential for developing countries. In that context, the potential is there for the global health fund to work almost as a counter balance to TRIPS. As was said earlier, we hope that the global health fund money will become additional to any sources of funding in the Department for International Development.
I accept that the WTO has been established for only five years, but it has yet to prove that it is working for the world's poorest. One issue that needs to be considered is the hidden subsidies in the west that may not be in the WTO agreements but are in associated international agreements. The most obvious one is Kyoto. The American Government's refusal to implement Kyoto represents, in effect, a massive subsidy to its industry. American exports are not fully priced in that respect because the full implications of Kyoto are not placed on them. America is depending on developing world carbon sinks to keep its exports cheap and its industry subsidised. Although it is not on the agenda in Doha as far as I know, it must be appreciated that the next round, whatever it is, can move forward only if it goes hand-in-hand with other international agreements such as Kyoto. If sustainable development is to mean anything, there has to be full implementation, particularly by the USA, of the Kyoto agreement.
We must also consider the possibility of a Tobin tax, or some form of international agreement on currency speculation. In that way, international capitalism, along with Governments, can make a contribution to the needs of developing countries.
Finally, we must keep our promises. We promised in 1970, at the General Assembly of the UN, that we would meet the contribution to international development of 0.7 per cent. of GDP by the middle of the 1970s. It is now the beginning of the 21st century. We reiterated the promise in the real declaration under the local Agenda 21 process. All Governments have a lamentable record on meeting the 0.7 per cent. target. It is true that the Government have recently increased their contribution to international development to about 0.31 per cent. and are on target for a contribution of 0.33 per cent. However, at the present rate of growth, it will take us 50 years to reach 0.7 per cent. I hope to be around in 50 years, although I hope that I will not be a Member of this House then. However, I hope that I do not have to wait 50 years to see us reach the 0.7 per cent. figure. Whether the target is incorporated into the Bill, which might not be acceptable, or whether it is in a strategy introduced by the Government, it must be reached. Let us aspire to be like Luxembourg, and meet that target.
§ Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset)
I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate. I have tended to agree with most of what everybody has said. I agreed with the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) until he mentioned the Tobin tax, but as he did not elaborate on it, I did not intervene on him.
The debate and the Bill highlight the issues at the forefront of many people's minds with regard to Britain's tradition of aid—particularly humanitarian aid—when it is directed towards the situation in Afghanistan. We have had debates about the situation on other occasions and I do not want to go into it in any detail.
The Bill is about the longer-term objectives of international development and how we meet our obligations.
To some extent it is a motherhood and apple pie Bill: there is little in it to which most of us would object. Few people—apart, perhaps, from some in the odd public bar—would be against our providing assistance to developing nations. Few people would be against us doing something to alleviate world poverty. Few Members do not believe that we should make globalisation work for every nation—rich and poor.
The real test is whether the Bill and the activities of the Department for International Development can make a difference. Will the powers enacted under the measure be effective in delivering our objectives? The Bill is really about outcomes. Will the results of the use of our limited resources make a difference to the developing world and to those people in the world to whom we have an obligation?
I am not alone in thinking that the long-term answer to poverty alleviation rests with trade liberalisation. I was impressed by the contribution of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin), in which she referred to the WTO talks in Doha and to the effort that we must make to put pressure on our WTO partners to bring about trade liberalisation. That pressure must be exerted especially on our partners in the European Union and the United States—
§ Mr. Walter
And, indeed, in Japan, as the Secretary of State has just pointed out. We had better not get into a debate on how the rice market affects Japan.
The real opportunity for much of the developing world lies in agricultural production. Developing countries need to be able to market their produce globally without being subject to the protectionism erected by the industrialised world where other things could be produced much more effectively. We should all be dedicated to that.
In the UK, we traditionally believe that we have an obligation to equip the developing world with the capital and resources to supply those global markets. We have always seen it as our role to provide education and expertise to developing economies, so it is ironic that the Department devoted to poverty alleviation—the House must forgive my slight criticism on one point—should have imposed conditions on one of the essential vehicles for the delivery of that assistance, thereby causing it to turn its back on key sectors of industry in the developing world. I was disappointed by the Secretary of State's response to my intervention about the Commonwealth Development Corporation.
324 The Commonwealth Development Corporation, whose name does not appear in the Bill, should be key to the delivery of the Bill's objectives. Alas, I believe that the corporation has turned its back on that important agriculture sector in the developing world. Before it is too late—before the Bill leaves the House and receives its Royal Assent—we should re-dedicate the corporation to a key role in meeting our international development objectives.
Like many colleagues, I have been fortunate enough on several occasions during my four and half years as a Member of this place to visit developing countries under the auspices of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I have visited countries in Africa and Asia, and this year I was fortunate enough to visit Belize and Jamaica. Some of my comments about DFID and the Commonwealth Development Corporation are based on my experience on those visits.
The history of the CDC goes right back to 1948 and the Colonial Development Corporation. It was renamed the Commonwealth Development Corporation in the mid-1960s. In 1997, its new mandate was to invest in sustainable and socially responsible projects that were also profitable. There is no criticism of that or any objection to it. The idea of the changes was simply to raise capital from the private sector. The Secretary of State alluded to that in her response to my intervention. However, the reality is that the management team at the CDC seems to have different objectives.
Many of the CDC's assets are loans in Africa and developing countries elsewhere in farms and forests. They were in long-term, labour-intensive agricultural projects run by local experts, but the trouble is that agriculture does not produce the kind of returns that emerging market funds are looking for. It produces returns of at best 8, 9 or 10 per cent. There are many emerging market funds based in the City of London that could return 20 per cent. or more, and that seems to be what the CDC now aspires to be. Therefore, many agricultural projects are going; many are up for sale. I saw one in Belize this summer. The Del Oro citrus project, which was put together and funded by the CDC, is now up for sale, but there are no buyers. The despair among the citrus growers in that region has to be seen to be believed. They feel that the CDC, Britain and DFID are turning their backs on them.
Offices of the CDC have been closed. When I asked about the CDC in Jamaica, I was told that the regional office had moved to Miami—that well-known Commonwealth country, and of course in a developing nation. I do not believe that the CDC's role is to be an emerging market fund alongside all the other emerging market funds. It is a genuine development bank, a development corporation that can take equity stakes in Commonwealth and other countries. Its objectives have been widened. That is part of what the objectives of the Department for International Development should be—using CDC as a vehicle.
I believe that the CDC is a key weapon in Britain's armoury, not just another investment bank. It now sits with its £2 billion budget somewhat uneasily—
§ Mr. Walter
The Secretary of State corrects me. I will take her word for that.
325 Of course the CDC's £1 billion should not be spent just on poverty alleviation, but poverty alleviation seems to be far distant from its objectives now. I see it as a publicly funded commercial enterprise that seeks returns with no demonstrable impact on poverty. That is uncomfortable.
Many CDC offices are being closed. The corporation's commitment to Africa certainly seems to be diminishing. Its chairman, Lord Cairns, insists that it can achieve its mission of realising attractive returns to shareholders. That will also have an effect of assisting social development. Yet the CDC's new investments are in urban services for a rich minority and rural areas are being ignored, although they are where 85 per cent. of the poverty that we seek to alleviate is found.
Britain's international development aims represent a force for good in the world, which is why the Bill is supported on both sides of the House. That cross-party consensus is good and right, but the Bill is not beyond improvement. and we should enhance the CDC's role and return it to its original objective—to aid DFID in delivering its goals.
§ Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford)
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to take part in this debate. I feel privileged to follow so many thoughtful and positive contributions.
I have not always agreed with many things that the Secretary of State has said over the years—our politics are very different—but I have observed her closely in the five years that she has held her current post, and she has shown obvious dedication to the job. I commend her on that and on the determination that she is showing to try to alleviate poverty and to deal with many of the disastrous events in the world today. We have a duty, as a civilised nation, to do everything that we can to alleviate catastrophes, wherever they may occur in the world and whoever is affected. I am pleased that work is being done to further that aim.
I want to respond to the comments by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge); I certainly respect much of what she has said. However, I do not believe that the Conservative party has experienced a tremendous conversion to believing in helping the poor and in changing things to better the lives of people around the world—it has always held that view. Of course, 15 or 20 years ago things were very different. We were living in a different world, there was a cold war, and the west had economic difficulties. Many of those problems have been resolved, perhaps only to be replaced by new ones. Nevertheless, it has to be remembered that, 15 or 20 years ago, it was not quite so easy for countries such as ours to respond in the more positive way that economic prosperity has given us the opportunity to do, and I ask the hon. Lady to consider that in future debates on this topic.
The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) made a very valid point about the money that we pay towards the EU and the fact that so much is lost. I hope that the Government will reconsider those arrangements. I honestly believe that it is better for the Government to decide how to spend overseas aid, rather than for the money necessarily to go via the EU; we know that a lot of money is wasted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), made important and valid points about the persecution of religious minorities, and I urge the Secretary of State to consider that issue as well.
326 The Opposition spokesperson, my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), is not in the Chamber now, but I commend her on her very thoughtful and sincere remarks. I am impressed by her compassion, and I am proud to speak in support of much of what she said this evening. I join her in broadly welcoming the spirit of the Bill, but I have several important reservations and I should like to outline them this evening.
Our country has a long record of giving aid and taking an active and productive role in international development. We should be proud of that and seek to continue it. We should wholeheartedly subscribe to the principle of helping those who are trying to escape poverty and who will benefit from a helping hand to take them out of the trap that prevents them from being able to help themselves. Freedom brings prosperity. Aid is vital to that, but we need also to promote freedom.
The previous Conservative Government formed the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. Although not directly relevant to the Bill, I am proud to have played a part in helping to promote the ideas of freedom and democracy around the world in my role as chairman of the International Young Democrat Union and previously as co-ordinator for the freedom training programme, in conjunction with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, working in many countries—in particular Africa, eastern Europe, Latin America and, most recently, the Caribbean. That was a positive achievement by the Government, and it attracted all-party support. The right hon. Sir Geoffrey Pattie was instrumental in that, along with his counterparts in other parties.
A political system can make a big difference, as can an economic system. Aid is not simply the answer; other things need to happen for a country to prosper and for people to have opportunities. The free market economy, which almost all hon. Members accept, is the way forward for developing countries. Trade liberalisation is vital. We must work with all developing countries to help them and teach them the ways of the free market.
The Bill fails to acknowledge deeper issues that relate to corruption and the encouragement of good governance, which make it ambiguous and too narrow. The lack of an attempt to define poverty is the most striking flaw. I freely admit that I was not a Member when the first version was introduced in the previous Session, but I know that many hon. Members rightly questioned that omission. I shall not repeat those arguments at length, but it is important to observe the Government's inconsistency.
The Government feel competent enough to give a precise definition of development assistance and a broad definition of sustainable development, but are unable to define poverty, on which everything else hinges. Indeed, clause 1(1) is clear in stating that the Secretary of State may provide development assistance if that islikely to contribute to a reduction in poverty.That leaves the right hon. Lady with a blank cheque. The Bill guides her on how she may provide assistance, but the decision on whether to do so or not is based entirely on what she deems to qualify as poverty.
327 In theory, poverty could be anything from the unthinkable levels of starvation and deprivation suffered by approximately 1.2 billion people around the world who are forced to survive on less than $1 a day, to countries where the perceived standard of living, based merely on economic indicators, is deemed to be poor. With no clear boundaries, Governments may find themselves in troubled waters, unable to justify the point at which the line must be drawn.
I come now to a different but no less important aspect of the debate. The Bill significantly lacks measures to guarantee that any assistance will genuinely help those who most need it, and will not be diverted to those who may abuse it. The Government have consistently promised to be tough on corruption, and I commend them for that—yet, as far as I can see, the Bill contains no acknowledgement of the possibility of bribery and corruption, let alone any measures to tackle it. Furthermore, the Bill fails to focus on the importance of promoting good governance. It touches on the provision of assistance incorporating technical aid, particularly in the form of know-how, but it does not explicitly recognise the link that undoubtedly exists between good governance and positive change.
If, through our aid packages, we do not promote the ideas of good governance, we will have failed. We may have offered a short-term solution to the pressing problems caused by a natural disaster or a conflict, but we will not have delivered any lasting benefit. The International Development Committee reported last April thatpoor governance and weak institutionsare the primary cause of corruption, and said thatcorruption further undermines development and growth and constitutes a serious threat to attempts to eliminate poverty.It went on to say thatthe elimination of corruption should be central to a responsible development strategy.Yet the Bill makes no mention of the elimination of corruption. As I said, it does not even acknowledge the problem.
§ Clare Short
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman was present for earlier speeches. There is no doubt that dealing with corruption and ensuring effective governance are crucial to development. The Bill gives the Government the flexibility to tackle corruption, develop effective governance, improve public services and try to resolve conflict. He is misleading us by suggesting that the Bill is not intended to deal with corruption, and I am surprised that he persists with that false analysis.
§ Mr. Rosindell
I am sure that much more can be discussed in Committee. My speech is intended to encourage the Government to improve the Bill, which, as I have already said, I very much support, as do the Opposition. I look forward to the Committee proceedings, and I hope that the Government will consider improvements and stronger measures.
When the Bill was first presented to the House, the Secretary of State rejected the notion of including in it the OECD convention on combating bribery because of a lack 328 of time. There is no general election looming now, so the Government do not have an excuse. Let us hope that the matter can be reconsidered in Committee.
The Bill presents the Government with an ideal opportunity to prove that they are serious about tackling corruption. To be serious, they must explicitly recognise, from the outset, that corruption is part of the problem, and where it exists it will only be worsened by the unconditional giving of material aid. All the evidence presented to the Select Committee indicated that it is commonplace for countries in receipt of material aid to waste up to 70 per cent. of resources through petty corruption because bureaucrats on exceedingly low pay have no choice but to resort to corrupt practices to provide for their families. That corruption, in turn, hurts the poorest the most.
When World Bank staff estimate that between 20 and 30 per cent. of development funds to Indonesia have been systematically diverted, and organisations such as Transparency International discover that the poor in countries such as Bangladesh have to make corrupt payments to receive health care and education, we know that there is a major problem that must not be ignored. When giving evidence to the International Development Committee, the Secretary of State admittedyou cannot do development without dealing with corruption if you are operating in countries that have got corruption problems.I entirely agree with that very clear statement. Sadly, it does not appear to be fully reflected in the Bill, but I look forward to that happening.
My final comments relate to the attitude taken towards the British overseas territories. We should not treat our overseas territories differently from any other part of the United Kingdom. I accept that the Bill is well intentioned and I support it, but I am concerned that we are treating our overseas territories differently. We should not do so. A disaster in, say, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, Montserrat, St. Helena or the Pitcairn Islands should be treated in exactly the same way as we would respond to a disaster in Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland. However, the Bill, while removing the condition of development aid being provided to reduce poverty, continues to refer to overseas territories as though they were foreign territories. They are not. They are British, and rightly so.
§ Tony Baldry
I think that my hon. Friend might be misleading himself. The overseas territories are small territories which for various reasons have not become independent, or have not wanted to. The money given under the Bill and previous legislation is not for emergency or humanitarian relief; it is given to ensure that they acquire the infrastructure and development they need to build themselves up; otherwise, they would face considerable difficulties.
§ Mr. Rosindell
I accept that point. I do not disagree with my hon. Friend. However, I feel strongly that citizens of our overseas territories should be made to feel that they are as British as the rest of us.
§ Mr. Rosindell
I thank the hon. Lady.
329 Although I would like to say more, I am anxious that my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) should have the opportunity to speak. I conclude by saying that it is only right that our primary focus should be on how we can help those who are in need of our assistance. However, that help must tackle the deeper issues, or it might be of no help at all.
§ Angela Watkinson (Upminster)
I welcome the opportunity to discuss the framework of our international development policy. The outcome of the Bill will be vital to the 1.2 billion people throughout the world who live in extreme poverty—that is, surviving on less than $1 a day.
During the 1990s, one third of the world's children suffered from malnutrition. Although there was a worldwide reduction of 17 per cent. in that figure, it fell far short of the 50 per cent. target, whereas in sub-Saharan Africa the absolute number of malnourished children actually increased. The under-five mortality rate in low-income countries in 1999 was 116 children per 1,000 born, compared with only five per 1,000 in high-income countries. The overall situation has been made much worse by the events in America on 11 September and their adverse effect on economic growth in developing countries. Up to 10 million more people now face poverty in 2002.
We need to achieve the targets set at the G7 Finance Ministers meeting in Palermo in 2001. Those targets include progress towards gender equality, especially in terms of education for girls, by 2005; a 50 per cent. reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty—I understand that some progress has been made in that respect; universal primary education in all countries; and access to reproductive health services through primary care. At this point, let me reassure the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), who was concerned that those funds are concentrated on contraception. In fact, they are concentrated on ensuring safer childbirth and on prenatal and antenatal services for women.
With less than 15 years to go, the prospects for success in some areas are improving but, on present trends, none of the goals in health or education is likely to be achieved globally. Bearing that in mind, I support the broad thrust of the Bill, which will become the new basis for United Kingdom provision of overseas assistance. There are some issues of concern, which I almost hesitate to mention, given the consensual debate that we have had this evening. However, none are insuperable, and I hope that there will be an opportunity to address them in Committee.
The Bill seeks to clarify the purposes for which development assistance is provided; in other words, it should help to reduce poverty, and it widens the means to do so. However, it does not define poverty, which is a subjective term and requires explanation. It gives the Government powers to provide humanitarian relief, although no time scale is given, and there is no requirement for such assistance to contribute specifically to poverty reduction. It is not just the quantity of aid that matters, but its effectiveness. We must ensure that it reaches the people for whom it is intended. The method of distribution is vital, and charities and non-governmental organisations could play a much greater role in 330 development. As we strive to increase our giving, we must ensure that food aid intended for starving civilians is not commandeered to feed an army. Financial aid should never be allowed to find its way into Swiss bank accounts or be invested in international property portfolios.
We must encourage good governance in developing countries. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) spoke powerfully about that. We should not increase aid to countries where there is a deterioration in human rights or an increase in military spending. I was pleased that the Secretary of State spoke about improvements and progress in China, where coercive birth control is causing women distress. I welcome the HIPC initiative, but its delivery is taking too long. I hope that we will look more closely at the financial progress of individual countries and the root causes of problems in indebted countries to give them an opportunity to achieve genuine sustainable development, and so break the link between dependency and debt.
There is a close link between debt relief and corruption. The OECD's convention on combating the bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions was signed in December 1997, yet still awaits ratification. Four years on, the United Kingdom lags way down the list of countries that have promised to introduce that legislation. I urge the Government to make time to deal with that matter; perhaps the Under-Secretary will comment on that when he responds to our debate.
My main concern is the waste and mismanagement of the EU aid budget, which has still not been tackled, even though the agency has been called the worst in the world. Member states should be able to deliver more aid bilaterally and should certainly do so more effectively. EU aid programmes have been found to have serious weaknesses and shortcomings. In the past five years, the average delay in the disbursement of committed funds has increased from three years to four and a half years. It is a scandal that people are suffering for any longer than is necessary because of bureaucracy or inefficiency in the EU. Between 25 and 30 per cent. of the Department's budget is spent by the European Community, but we have little control over its spending decisions. If we did have more control over those decisions, I wonder whether the Department would have made different priority decisions about where aid is spent, for example, in India.
This year, our spending amounted to £728 million. Are any measures in place to determine what percentage of that money has been spent effectively? Or do we have to wait another five years before measures are in place to find out that there has been no improvement in systems? Between 1979 and 1997, the average UK net overseas development assistance, as a percentage of gross national product, was 0.32 per cent. Although that has since dropped to 0.26 per cent., I note that our target increase for 2003–04 is 0.33 per cent. We all look forward to reaching the 0.7 per cent. target. It is our duty, as a rich country, to achieve it.
§ Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)
There has been much all-party agreement during the debate. I therefore wind up the debate for the official Opposition with some satisfaction. The House of Commons is often at its best when thoughtful speeches tackle genuine issues in measures such as the Bill. The Secretary of State will 331 agree that there was much common ground between her opening speech and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman).
The opening speeches were followed by impressive contributions from hon. Members of all parties. The right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke), who has been involved with international development for a long time, began with a generous and deserved tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden. However, he was uncharacteristically and unfairly critical of my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) when he mentioned my hon. Friend's contribution in a debate before the general election. My hon. Friend was never mean-minded, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested. I know that the Under-Secretary will concede that the Opposition's approach to the Bill has not changed. When the measure was debated in the previous Parliament, we welcomed it but made two or three points that my hon. Friends have highlighted again today.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) introduced a note of party political controversy to the debate. Nevertheless, in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell), she said that she agreed with some of his points.
The House is familiar with well observed, thorough and detailed contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who chairs the International Development Committee. In paying tribute to him and his work, it would be remiss if I did not mention the important work of the previous Chairman. I note that the Secretary of State nods. Bowen Wells, the former Member for Hertford and Stortford, chaired the Select Committee superbly and a great deal of his work will be reflected in our work in Standing Committee. Tribute was properly paid to him at this morning's annual general meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury spoke of his experience on a recent visit to Burkina Faso. He said that he was worried that the Bill did not cover EU contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) also made that point. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury rightly pointed out that malaria, HIV/AIDS and TB kill 5 million people a year and that the global health fund must be made to work.
The hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) talked about his work on the International Development Committee and his recent visit to Cambodia. He rightly said that the Department's work increases day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year. He made the interesting point that the provision of aid does not stop rich terrorists such as Osama bin Laden. He also made valuable points about the recruitment of young Muslims by terrorists such as the al-Qaeda network.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), who has a long-standing interest in international development, referred to the predictions that he made in the debate on the White Paper in May. He pointed out with sadness how quickly his dire warning—that poverty breeds fundamentalism, which breeds terrorism—had been realised.
My hon. Friend cited the Secretary of State's acceptance of the fact that the world's poorest people often come from religious minorities 332 I think that the whole House was grateful to my hon. Friend for the examples that he gave in relation to the plight of the Montagnard people in Vietnam, the Coptic Christians in Egypt and minorities in Burma. All hon. Members will be concerned about the persecution of those people.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin) made a good speech, which, I should tell her, has been praised by a number of subsequent contributors while she has been out of the Chamber. She spoke of her concerns about tied aid and about the Doha talks.
The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), in a characteristically thoughtful contribution to the debate, said that people in Northern Ireland give more per capita to charitable good causes overseas than people in other parts of the United Kingdom. He mentioned his meeting earlier today with a delegation from the Philippines, and the fact that the people of Mindanao are once again vulnerable to recruitment by terrorists.
The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) welcomed the cross-party support for the Bill and paid a well-deserved tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden. He said that he wanted aid to be focused on the world's very poorest people, and stressed his own constituency links with William Wilberforce.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) made a detailed speech in which he pointed out that he was having a second bite at the cherry on this Bill, as he had spoken in the Second Reading debate of its predecessor, which failed because of the general election. He said that he was speaking on behalf of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party, so one might say that he was speaking for all the Celts in this debate. He spoke about the Brundtland definition and the World Trade Organisation, and said that he wanted the whole of the Department for International Development's budget to be devolved to the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. He also talked about what has been called the Tobin tax, but he may not have been aware that hon. Members on both sides of the House think that that should be rechristened in honour of the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), who supported it earlier today.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter), in his thoughtful and well-argued speech, referred to the Bill as motherhood and apple pie. He showed his great expertise and knowledge of the subject, especially in voicing his concern that the Bill does not fully reflect the work done by the Commonwealth Development Corporation. He also talked about what he had seen on visits to Belize and Jamaica earlier this year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romford talked about the difficulties in the very different world of 15 to 20 years ago. He broadly welcomed the spirit of the Bill, and described the work in which he has personally been involved with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the International Young Democrat Union. He stressed his concerns about the overseas territories, which the Secretary of State will know that Conservative Front Bench Members share. We shall return to them in Committee, as we shall to my hon. Friend's concern about implementing the provisions against bribery and corruption. We have consistently stressed that concern here and in another place, and we shall undoubtedly return to it. 333 My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster spoke of her concern about the waste and mismanagement of the European Union aid budget.
This has been an important and good debate on both sides of the House, on a very important Bill. We welcome the Bill, but we must bear it in mind that the background to all these overseas aid issues is that, despite decades of assistance from so many bodies in the developed world, most of Africa and much of Latin America, Asia and the middle east are, tragically, economically worse off today than they were 20 years ago. In the late 1990s, the United Nations released figures showing that 70 poor countries were worse off than they had been in 1980, and that 43 were worse off than they had been in 1970, despite decades of aid spending.
We hope that this consolidation of previous legislation will give the Department for International Development the opportunity to help to reverse that trend. All hon. Members recognise that, too often, aid programmes have brought neither material prosperity nor political stability to many regions. That is why Conservative Members have been particularly concerned about the measures in the Bill that deal with good governance. That is another matter to which we shall return in Committee.
This is a good Bill, but it can be improved in Committee if the Government will take on board the relatively small but important improvements that we have repeatedly stressed. Although the Government did not accept them before the general election, we hope that they will finally do so now. As my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden rightly said, the Bill is very good but it could be made even better with a few changes, as we have suggested.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn)
We have had an excellent and wide-ranging debate, to which many right hon. and hon. Members have contributed. It has just been summed up by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) with his characteristic skill. May I say to him and the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) that I very much welcome the spirit of their remarks. As the hon. Lady said, we have a common goal; that has been demonstrated in speeches from both sides of the Chamber.
The hon. Lady asked how the principles established in the Bill will be expressed in joined-up government. We had a good illustration of that earlier today when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry made a statement about Doha. Those who were in the Chamber to listen to it will have heard her speak almost exclusively about Doha's potential to make a difference to developing countries.
My hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) and for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin) and the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) referred, all in different ways, to the potential power of trade to make a difference, and I very much endorse those remarks. I particularly endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill and others about developing countries' capacity to engage in the process. We must be clear that the World Trade Organisation is a body of sovereign Governments and we should not talk down the capacity, in a true sense, of developing countries to engage in that process and ultimately to shape it as they want. My Department is trying to assist them in that process.
334 The hon. Member for Meriden asked whether the Bill would adversely affect our work on good governance, which has been one of the themes of the debate, or on issues such as efficient revenue collection. I take this opportunity to reassure her that that will not be the case. Both of those will be supported and permitted.
I welcome the hon. Lady's commitment, on behalf of her party, on tied aid. I am delighted to hear that the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) is now reassured on that question. As she asked me to repeat the remarks of my distinguished predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), let me say that the Government believe that, under the Bill, a policy of tying aid would not be sustainable.
§ Hilary Benn
Or, indeed, legal. Any future Secretary of State who tried to act illegally would be subject to the powers of the courts. We think that that offers sufficient protection.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) spoke with his characteristic depth of knowledge about disability. He also mentioned maternal mortality. I had a chance to look at that subject at first hand last week when I was in Malawi, where I had the opportunity to visit a safe motherhood project that the Department is supporting. It is a practical, down-to-earth project that is trying to encourage discussion within the community about the importance of getting women experiencing difficulty in labour to specialist help as quickly as possible. It includes talking to the ambulance service and dispatchers about the need to prioritise calls on behalf of women who find themselves in that position.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston and the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) mentioned the Ilisu dam. They will both be aware that that is an export credit guarantee issue and is not covered by the Bill, but I shall undertake to convey to the Minister responsible their request for further information.
A number of Members, including the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle), discussed the effectiveness of European Union aid. Indeed, that has been a theme of the debate. The Bill covers only the European development fund element of European spending, but I think that the whole House is agreed on the need to improve further the effectiveness and the poverty focus of EC development programmes.
As we have said on various occasions—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been particularly vigorous in pressing this point, as has the Select Committee on International Development—the scale and the scope of the EC's development aid budget means that it should have enormous potential. I think that all hon. Members will agree that it has failed to fulfil that potential, which is why the current reform programme has to succeed.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) did not disturb the bipartisan spirit of our debate. Indeed, I think that he added to it when he said that poverty reduction should concern the conservative philosophy as much as it should other political philosophies represented 335 in our society. I very much welcome his statement and the way in which he said it, because I think that he was absolutely right.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of human rights. I undertake to look into the three specific cases that he identified: Vietnam, Egypt and Burma. I should add, however, that Vietnam has been able to make significant progress in poverty reduction. He was generous enough to acknowledge the support that we are already giving Burma. However, as a Government, in making decisions we can and do distinguish between the policies of a particular Government and the needs of people who—as I am sure all hon. Members will agree—should not suffer because of the Government under whom they happen to live or whom, in the case of Burma, they have had no part in choosing.
The hon. Members for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) and for Ceredigion mentioned the devolved aspects of the legislation. The Northern Ireland Administration and the Welsh Assembly both recognise that international development is a reserved matter. The Northern Ireland Administration is not accountable for any of the statutory bodies listed in schedule 1—although I notice that the Wales tourist board is so listed. However, the Bill makes provision for consultation with the devolved Administrations before we enter into any arrangements with either Welsh or Northern Irish statutory bodies. I hope that that offers some reassurance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) said that John Vereker, the permanent secretary at the Department for International Development, is one of his constituents. I am glad that he did so because, as hon. Members may be aware, John Vereker will be moving on to take up new duties before the end of the year. This debate therefore gives me the opportunity not only on my own behalf, but probably more significantly on behalf of my right hon. Friend—who has worked very closely with him since she became Secretary of State in 1997—to thank him for the distinguished contribution that he has made in the past eight years to the work of the Department and to international development more broadly. In the short time that I have been a Minister in the Department, I have certainly valued his enormous depth of knowledge, his intellect and the way in which he conducts himself. I am sure that the whole House would like to wish him all the very best in the new duties to which he will be moving.
The issue of sustainable development was raised in this debate, and it was debated at some length in the Bill's previous incarnation. I think that we have to ensure that the concept is not captured either by those who take an entirely economic view of sustainable development or by those who see it principally as an environmental concern—something that I learned forcefully when I was in Indonesia, where the economics of sustainable livelihoods in a forest community are about trying to balance those two sometimes competing demands. I think that clause 1(3) is not so much a definition as a safeguard against the narrowing of that concept by anyone who has a particular definition favouring one concept or the other.
The hon. Members for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) and for Upminster (Angela Watkinson)—in an east London-Essex alliance—urged us to examine the definition of poverty. I 336 am not sure how much would be gained by entering into a long debate—although I should be happy to do so in Committee—on precisely how we define poverty. I think that the most important consideration is that the international community has defined the goals of poverty reduction that it wishes to reach and that it wishes to work on by means of both the millennium development goals and the international development targets.
Our debate this evening, if not overshadowed by the events of 11 September, has been very much influenced by them—and that is precisely as it should be, because we have all had a lot of thinking to do in the last few weeks, and a great deal to learn. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West made the point when he spoke of the importance of development education.
One of the most important lessons of that experience is directly relevant to the Bill. It is simply this: a world scarred by poverty, injustice and inequality will never be a safe world. If the case for what the Bill seeks to achieve was strong before 11 September, as indeed it was, it is much stronger now.
When the individuals who took up Osama bin Laden's invocation to go and kill Americans, picking as their target the symbol of the international financial system—the twirl towers—they in fact killed people from 62 countries across the world. In that respect, I think that the twin towers symbolise something else that is just as significant: the extent to which this very small and fragile world of ours is now more interdependent and interlinked than it has been at any time in its history.
This is a world in which what happens in one country affects those who live in another. For example, conflict in Afghanistan results in refugees in Leeds, Birmingham and other cities of the United Kingdom. It is a world in which events that occur in one country are instantly seen by those of us living in other countries, because of the power of television to shrink the globe. I believe that it is a world in which, as a result of all those things, we have a responsibility for each other.
For all the reasons that I have given, international development can no longer be regarded as some kind of good-hearted add-on to real politics. It is now the very heart of political debate and political argument, not least because of my right hon. Friend's efforts to make it so, and the way in which she has put the case over the past four years. The moral case, to which many Members have referred, is now reinforced by the political case.
The hon. Member for Banbury hit the nail on the head when he said that we have an unprecedented opportunity. I believe that passionately, because the world is now more alive to these issues. The world has been forced to be more aware, and the world must now respond to that greater awareness by making decisions that will make a real difference.
Having entered the 21st century with half the world living on less than $2 a day and one in five of our fellow men and women living on less than $1 a day, we simply cannot afford to leave it with such high levels of poverty. That is why the reduction of poverty, which is what the Bill is about, must be our overriding aim.
337 The level of aid matters enormously, of course. It is a source of pride that the UK's development aid budget is increasing, and that my right hon. Friend will have been responsible for delivering a 45 per cent. real-terms increase between 1997 and 2003–04, when the budget will reach £3.6 billion—the highest development aid budget in the history of the United Kingdom.
A number of Members asked how we would move towards the 0.7 per cent. target. I welcome all their comments, and will ensure that they are passed on to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—who, I am sure, will read them with great interest.
The UK's role in debt relief has delivered, for 23 of the world's poorest countries, the potential of $53 billion of debt reduction. In this year alone, that is freeing $1.7 billion that would otherwise have been spent on interest payments but can now be spent on, for instance, education and health.
The Bill will provide a legal framework that will support our development assistance by ensuring that the reduction of poverty is at the centre of politics in this country and in the world. I think that the House can be truly proud of what we have been able to achieve together so far. Progress has been made: we must acknowledge that, not least because it enables us to redouble our efforts to make further progress. What we have done is a start, but it is what we have yet to do that will really make a difference.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).