HC Deb 04 November 2003 vol 412 cc718-69

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Paul Clark.]

3.43 pm
The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn)

I am delighted that the House has the opportunity to discuss Africa and its development, and to seek to answer the question of what progress we are making towards reducing poverty for the people of Africa. This is a critical time for the continent—a time of opportunity as well as challenge. I say that because some of the most intractable conflicts in the region are showing signs of being resolved, and many countries are beginning to show signs of progress towards democracy and good governance, while at the same time, many countries in the north are beginning to recognise that a partnership with the countries of Africa, based on a commitment on both sides to do better, can bring real benefits in the long term.

When we think about Africa, we tend to dwell on famine, war, poverty, disease and civil unrest. Africa has all of those and more, and I shall return to those problems later. Africa is not only about the images we see on the television, however. It is also about real progress, although we need to do much more. The number of major conflicts in Africa fell between 1990 and 2000 from 19 to two. That includes Sudan, where there is an emerging peace process. There is a national transitional Government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where an estimated 3 million people lost their lives during the fighting in what has been described as Africa's hidden first world war. Tanzania, though one of the poorest countries in Africa, has enjoyed a large degree of stability, and despite being geographically part of a volatile region it has remained largely outside the recent conflicts.

Economic growth in Mozambique has been significant in recent years. Malawi has begun to implement an International Monetary Fund programme of sound policies and structural reforms, while Uganda has seen a substantial decline in HIV prevalence, from 20 per cent. in 1991 to 6.5 per cent. in 2001. The House would agree that that is a testament to the power of the political leadership that has been given in that country.

Rwanda and Kenya have made the transition to democracy. The peaceful handover in Kenya following the election last December is a good example of what can be achieved, because the election of President Kibaki and the new National Rainbow Coalition, or NARC, Government were found by all observers to be freer and fairer than what had gone before. The defeated Kenya African National Union Administration, who we should not forget had ruled since Kenya's independence 40 years earlier, handed over power quietly and in accordance with the will of the people.

Rwanda has made extraordinary progress since 1994 and the unimaginable nightmare of the genocide in' that country. It is now at peace. The economy is stable and growing—real gross domestic product growth averaged almost 10 per cent. a year from 1995 to 2000—and the Government have made progress towards establishing a democratic and inclusive state in a country with no history of democracy whatever, although we would like to see more.

Those countries and many others in Africa still face considerable challenges. After all, the continent's share of world trade has halved in a generation. For example, 315 million people in the region live on less than $1 a day and 500 million live on less than $2 a day; maternal and child mortality are increasing; a woman has a one in 13 chance of dying in pregnancy or childbirth; HIV/AIDS has contributed to an increase in child mortality—75 per cent. of the world's sufferers live in sub-Saharan Africa; and 23 million girls in the region do not go to school. This is unacceptable in an increasingly interdependent world.

If sub-Saharan Africa's performance does not improve, 23 countries will fail to meet the millennium development goals—the targets that we, together, in the international community have set ourselves to measure the progress we are making, or are not making, in lifting the people of the world, including of Africa, out of poverty.

What are the major challenges that face sub-Saharan Africa? The first thing we have to acknowledge is that Africa's problems are complex and interrelated. The impact of one worsens that of the other; so, for example, civil war exacerbates HIV, which in turn increases poverty, which in turn has a bad effect on infant health and maternal mortality.

In the same way, making progress will involve action on a number of fronts, and there are four main underlying problems that I want to highlight. The first is that nothing can be achieved without growth. Countries such as Mozambique and Rwanda have improved governance and their commitment to reform. They have performed well. Generally, the most dramatic growth rates in Africa have been in those countries that are rich in natural resources, particularly oil and minerals.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston)

On the issue that my right hon. Friend has now raised, has he had the opportunity to consult our colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry on their excellent energy White Paper? In visiting various African countries, it has struck me that many of them are very rich in energy resources—Nigeria and Angola, for example, in oil—although those have to be developed and there has to be investment. However, that will be helpful to us as, I understand, a net importer of those important products.

Hilary Benn

My right hon. Friend makes a good point about the significance of those natural resources to the countries of Africa that benefit from them—it is important that they be used, although they must also be used effectively.

My right hon. Friend mentioned Nigeria and Angola, which are good examples of countries in which, in the past, wealth has not been used, as it might have been to maximise the impact of poverty reduction. That is one of the big issues for the continent.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

My right hon. Friend speaks of maximising resources. Might it not be a good idea for many African countries to study what has happened in Botswana, where the Government have made significant and purposeful efforts to ensure that resources reach the people through, for instance, education and health projects?

Hilary Benn

Botswana is indeed a useful example. I believe that it has experienced some of the highest growth rates in Africa over recent years, although, as my hon. Friend will know, it has also experienced a substantial problem with HIV/AIDS. I shall say more about that shortly.

Another obstacle to growth is conflict. Since 1997, the least developed countries in Africa have achieved half the growth rates of those in Asia. More foreign direct investment is needed. Sub-Saharan Africa still attracts less than 1 per cent. of global foreign direct investment, despite more optimistic forecasts.

As globalisation has affected Africa, its terms of trade have deteriorated and commodity prices have declined. Insufficient jobs and incomes are being created for the poor, and too few resources are being generated for health and education. Progress on trade policy will be essential if Africa is to become competitive, but most countries lack the capacity for trade policy analysis, negotiation and implementation, and the capacity to ensure that trade reform leads to poverty reduction.

As I think the whole House will agree, the current system simply does not work for the least developed countries. Africa's share of world trade halved between 1980 and 1999, and is now less than 1 per cent. That is one reason for our belief that trade rules must be improved to benefit the world's poor, and that is why getting Doha back on track is so important. The challenge for us to meet together is ensuring that the Doha round delivers benefits for African countries and their poorest citizens.

Whatever the reasons for the failure of the talks in Cancun—there was a debate about it not long ago in Westminster Hall—I believe that failure to make progress from now on would be the most damaging development for the world's poorest countries. Africa stands to get a better deal through multilateral negotiations in the World Trade Organisation, where developing countries constitute two thirds of membership. The one good thing that came out of Cancun was the fact that the voice of such countries was heard more loudly and clearly than it had been heard during any of the previous negotiations, and I for one welcome that unreservedly. Multilateral agreement, however, is infinitely preferable to regional and bilateral agreements with bigger economies.

We also need freer and fairer trade rules if developing countries are to benefit. The United Kingdom Government are determined to do all that they can, working with the European Commission and other European Union member states, to make progress on the development round towards fulfilling the commitments that we made at Doha. We are committed to trying to secure progress, because it is critical for African countries. I am thinking in particular of agricultural market access, a reduction in trade-distorting subsidies, and special and differential treatment for poorer countries.

The second fundamental problem faced by Africa is conflict, which kills development as well as people. It has affected 200 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. That is why supporting African efforts to resolve armed conflicts is so important. The United Kingdom has tried to do that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Burundi, Angola and West Africa, especially Sierra Leone. Some of those countries are now on the road to peace. In some, better progress is being made; in others, the situation is still fragile. But countries need the assurance of long-term support, and one of the challenges from now on will be to provide assistance so that the countries and regional organisations of Africa can be involved more effectively in trying to prevent or resolve violent conflicts on their continent, and to undertake peace support operations.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire)

The Secretary of State mentions conflict, but in one state in southern Africa—Zimbabwe—there is the most horrendous internal conflict. As a result, some 6 million people are close to starvation, and there is horrendous discrimination against many of the black population and, according to some of my constituents, many of the Asian population. Given that, for whatever reasons, the regional power—South Africa—does not seem willing to take a lead on this issue, is the Secretary of State prepared to urge his colleagues in the Foreign Office to raise this issue very seriously indeed within the United Nations, and to put the sort of effort into Zimbabwe that they put into Iraq earlier this year?

Hilary Benn

The hon. Gentleman's description of the terrible situation in Zimbabwe is absolutely right. An indication of that is that this year, the international community will be responsible for two thirds of the provision of food—a reverse of last year's proportion. Frankly, if this debate had taken place 25 or 30 years ago and someone had said that Zimbabwe would have to import very large amounts of food, people simply would not have believed it. Zimbabwe was seen as the breadbasket of Africa—that was the phrase that tripped off everybody's tongue.

There has been, and is, no lack of effort to try to resolve the situation, such as the measures that are in place and the decisions that the Commonwealth has rightly taken. If we do not indicate clearly that there are principles of good governance that we adhere to—a point to which I shall return—the people of Zimbabwe will not get the better future that they deserve. I accept the point that the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) makes about the need for international attention, but that needs to be combined with a political process that is capable of resolving the problem internally. We very much hope that that will eventually occur.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

I do not disagree with what the Secretary of State says about Zimbabwe, but 1 should point out that according to a meeting that I attended last week, food aid is being used as a tool by ZANU-PF, which is directing the deliverers of such aid—non-governmental organisations—through the World Food Programme, to areas generally consisting of ZANU-PF supporters. And where food aid is distributed to non-ZANU-PF supporters, the police, paramilitaries and so-called war veterans are taking it from them—we are talking about aid that is provided by our taxpayers and EU taxpayers—and delivering it to whomsoever they wish. Would the Secretary of State like to comment on that?

Hilary Benn

This is a matter of concern, and the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the statement made by the Zimbabwe Government earlier this year on food distribution. Following that statement, the donors got together with the World Food Programme and agreed a memorandum of understanding. Such problems have occurred, but the systems are in place to try to ensure that, if they are brought to the attention of the WFP and the international community, they are resolved. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to draw any such instances to my attention, I undertake readily to look into them. We are very clear about one thing: we will not accept the use of the international food aid that we provide, together with other donors in the WFP, in the way that the hon. Gentleman describes. I undertake to investigate any such cases because I am as anxious as he is to resolve them.

Returning to support for conflict resolution, a peace plan for training and operational support has been developed between the G8 and African countries. We support in principle the EU's plan for a peace support operations facility for Africa, which Paul Nielson referred to when he attended the African Union summit in Maputo at the beginning of July. We also need to support African efforts to eliminate the flow of illicit weapons in the continent, which fuels much of the fighting. The G8 has made progress in developing and implementing common standards in arms export controls, and the UK has pledged more than £20 million to combat the global proliferation of small arms. That includes the development of regional programmes in east Africa, the great lakes and southern Africa.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

I apologise for missing my right hon. Friend's earlier remarks. Does he accept that resources and conflict resolution are interrelated? In the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we cannot solve the problem of mineral exploitation unless we get all the surrounding countries to support non-exploitation; however, the same point is also true of the Nile, for example. Several countries could be seen to gain through conflict in other parts of the region, so we must surely encourage a degree of regional support. I hope that the Government will do everything that they can to get those countries to recognise that.

Hilary Benn

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have seen the complex inter-relationship between the exploitation of resources and the fuelling of conflict in Sierra Leone, with its diamonds, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo with its variety of resources. The peace process is now emerging in the DRC and the transitional national Government are in place. A great deal of time, effort and support has been invested to make that happen. My hon. Friend is right to say that, without the backing of neighbouring countries, it is much more difficult to find a long-term and lasting resolution of problems.

The third constraint is governance, which has already been touched on in some of our exchanges. Effective institutions and accountable government are, frankly, essential if we are to have a chance of reducing poverty, encouraging growth and securing private sector investment. We need to collect revenue, which includes taxes and customs revenue, to administer the law, to rebuild roads, to teach children and to deliver services. It is precisely because more Governments need more institutional capacity—a major issue—that we support the work of the Department for International Development in strengthening capacity-building programmes. That means working with country organisations that focus on economic and corporate governance in Africa.

Africans have the same right as others to transparent and accountable government, so we are providing anticorruption assistance in Malawi, Uganda, and Nigeria. We are providing support for the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group, which brings together 14 Commonwealth countries and includes peer evaluation. We are also encouraging the work of the intergovernmental action group against money laundering in west Africa, a similar group under the umbrella of the Economic Community of West African States. Finally, we are taking a lead on the extractive industries transparency initiative, which touches on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew). It is about encouraging countries that are dependent on oil, gas and mining to pilot this new approach to transparency—reporting what is paid and what is received. That is the best way to bring everything out into the open.

I think that the fourth major challenge is HIV/AIDS, because 29 million Africans are infected with the HIV virus. The equivalent of twice the population of London has now died of the disease. The impact of the pandemic, both nationally and in communities and individual households, is truly shocking. It is hard for the House to understand, because in this country, for example, one would have to go back to the period of the black death in order to understand the scale of the disease's impact.

The World Bank has warned that several African economies are facing collapse and that family incomes are being decimated. In some countries almost all the gain in life expectancy over the past 30 years is being wiped out, and the shortage of food in southern Africa is making the situation worse. There are growing numbers of orphans and vulnerable children: more than 11 million children in Africa have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS—and projections suggest that that may double by 2010.

The epidemic has the potential to both overload and devastate capacity, with health services overstretched and education systems collapsing. In a country where teachers are dying of HIV/AIDS faster than they can be trained, it is hard to ensure that all children have a primary school education. Economic growth is reduced, poverty deepens and social cohesion can disintegrate under the pressure of that sort of assault.

The UK is committed to working to try to combat the pandemic. We are, according to UNAIDS, the second largest donor of HIV/AIDS assistance in the world. Our HIV/AIDS assistance in Africa supports what African countries are already doing, and we strongly urge the international community to join us and other donors in working through AIDS programmes that are nationally based, nationally owned and nationally directed. The challenge is to harness all the effort and interest of the international community while ensuring that what we do on the ground works to make a difference.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Government on what they are doing to combat the problem of HIV/ AIDS. However, would he agree that more could and should be done to combat the problems of longstanding diseases such as sleeping sickness, leprosy and the Bilharzia snail, which, until recently, was hardly mentioned at all? Does the Minister have any specific plans to tackle those sorts of diseases?

Hilary Benn

My hon. Friend raises an important point and, of course, the global fund addresses the questions of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria as well as the other diseases to which he refers. The Department has a longstanding interest in those diseases and we have research programmes, in collaboration with medical researchers and others, to try to make greater progress. The diseases of the affluent world receive much investment of time, energy and resources to discover means of treatment, and the benefit of that work in relation to HIV/AIDS is beginning to be available to developing countries, as the price of antiretroviral drugs comes down, but my hon. Friend rightly draws attention to those other diseases.

Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble)

My right hon. Friend mentioned the global fund. The UK position on the global fund has been much criticised. I recognise that we make substantial donations to combating HIV/ AIDS, but I often receive documents criticising the UK position on the global fund and contrasting it with other countries, including the United States and European countries, which make larger contributions to the global fund.

Hilary Benn

The UK Government's spending on tackling HIV/AIDS has risen from £38 million in 1997 to £270 million. That is a substantial increase. We have put our money where our policy commitment is to be found. We are a strong supporter of the global fund and our commitment is now for $280 million up to 2008. That includes an additional $80 million that Baroness Amos announced in July when she attended a conference on the subject. It is a significant commitment of money and, as I mentioned earlier, we are the second largest donor on HIV/AIDS in the world, according to UNAIDS. However, everybody needs to do more and I accept the point that my hon. Friend makes.

Enabling Africans to have access to effective HIV/ AIDS treatment should be an international priority, but we need to acknowledge that the best response will involve a combination of prevention of infection and the care and treatment of infected people. It is not a question of a conflict between basic health care systems and trying to make treatments for HIV/AIDS available, as the price comes down, because developing countries are already beginning to think about what they can do, as they tackle the pandemic, to use antiretroviral treatment to help to keep people alive.

Strong leadership will also be necessary to remove the stigma of HIV/AIDS. That is why I mentioned the progress that has been made in Uganda, because its president provided strong political leadership, which has led to real progress. It shows what can be done.

The last few years have seen a major shift in African effort in seeking to address the continent's problems that I have described. Without doubt, the most important has been the New Partnership for Africa's Development, or NEPAD. It aims to tackle HIV/AIDS, to reduce poverty and to sustain long-term economic growth. It is committed to improving governance, building African peacekeeping capacity—about which I have spoken—and creating the right environment for investment in Africa. The most important aspect of NEPAD is, in the jargon of development, the emphasis on mutual accountability. In essence, it says that the international community has obligations to the people and countries of Africa to provide support, aid and progress on trade reform, but in return the African Governments and leaders recognise some responsibility for the state of their countries. The truth is that we have to work together to improve the contribution that we each make to solving the problems.

The NEPAD arrangements have some radical features. For example, the African peer review mechanism, to examine the performance of African countries in economic, social and political governance, will begin in Ghana this year. We support that unreservedly. It is about sharing experience, which allows countries to learn from each other and better understand what they need to do to make progress. The UK is committed to supporting NEPAD, and development in sub-Saharan Africa. The best evidence of that is that our development assistance for Africa will rise to £1 billion a year by 2005–06. That is an increase of more than 50 per cent. in three years. We are committed to ensuring that 50 per cent. of all new overseas development assistance commitments made by donors since Monterrey will go to sub-Saharan Africa. In that way, we can provide some of the predictability that those countries need if the resources are to be best used.

Tony Baldry (Banbury)

Is it not disappointing that there has not been more mutual accountability required of Zimbabwe from South Africa and other countries? President Taylor of Liberia was indicted by the UN-authorised war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone, but the Government of Nigeria have given him asylum. Is not that even more disappointing? Nigeria and South Africa are two of the leading African nations, but they are not helping to contribute to mutual accountability.

Hilary Benn

I take the hon. Gentleman's point about the need to acknowledge that mutual accountability cuts both ways and applies to everyone. I responded earlier about Zimbabwe—I think before the hon. Gentleman entered the Chamber—but in respect of Liberia, I would say only that I think that people would acknowledge that the decision to get Mr. Taylor out of the country was an essential precondition to making some progress there, and to allowing the ECOWAS force to go in with the support of the Americans. Now that that has happened, the position in Liberia is more stable than previously, but that does not detract from the point made by the hon. Gentleman about the importance of following through on commitments to mutual accountability.

Mr. Win Griffiths

I recognise the difficulties in connection with dealing with Charles Taylor, but has my right hon. Friend thought about giving Nigeria some financial aid, either from British or UN funds? Nigeria is not an immensely wealthy country, but it has devoted very considerable resources to peacekeeping in west Africa.

Hilary Benn

My hon. Friend knows that Britain has a substantial programme in Nigeria, but the way to make progress is by means of the EU's proposal for the peace support facility. We support that proposal in principle, although there are details to be worked through in connection with how the European development fund could be used to make it possible. If we can get it right, I think that that facility would meet the real need identified by my hon. Friend. The greater willingness that now exists to take on the sort of responsibility that he described is often blocked by lack of money.

That is also a factor when it comes to meeting the millennium development goals. Last week, I attended the high-level dialogue on financing for development in New York. The clear consensus that emerged was that we need to do more En respect of finding more resources so that we can meet those goals, and DFID is working with the Treasury to explore with other partners how best to achieve that. It is also why the proposal from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in respect of the international finance facility—which would enable us to raise more money now for development—is so important.

The amount of money is not the only thing that matters, however. The quality of aid is also important. That is why, in all this work, we must continue to align what we do with what other donors are doing. We must also harmonise the way in which we work: it is no good having loads of donors queueing up if they all want their own programmes, reporting arrangements and face-to-face meetings with representatives of developing country Governments. The impact on the capacity of recipient countries to cope with such demands is enormous, and aid is not used most effectively as a result.

It is not good enough merely to nod when people talk about harmonisation. All of us in the international community are all more or less guilty of doing that. We must do more to harmonise our actions, because that harmonisation is an expression of the multilateralism to which we are committed.

I know that several hon. Members want to contribute to the debate so I shall bring my remarks to a close. Africa is a major test for the world. We know why it matters and we understand better than we did in the past how a combination of things will really make the difference: more aid and debt relief will provide the finance to get children to school or to treat them for preventable diseases; opening up trade will enable countries to earn their way out of poverty; dealing with conflict and ensuring good governance will maximise the chances that people will want to invest in a country, thereby creating the jobs, employment and economic growth that will improve people's lives; and tackling HIV/AIDS will sustain human capacity in the face of the epidemic.

We understand better that all those things need to happen if we are really to make progress in helping the people of Africa to build a better life for themselves and their families. After all, that is all we seek for our own children; it is what the parents of Africa seek for their children, too. It is the responsibility of us all to ensure that we help them now to succeed in realising that goal.

4.15 pm
Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden)

I wrote to Mr. Speaker and to the Secretary of State to explain that, unfortunately, owing to a long-standing constituency engagement I shall not be in the Chamber for the winding-up speeches, so I apologise to the House for that.

At the outset of the debate, I want to put down a marker. As the Government has winkled some time out of the Whips to spend on the subject of international development, we are disappointed that the Secretary of State did not choose to discuss Iraq. We tabled two urgent questions, because although there have been two written ministerial statements on funding for the reconstruction of Iraq there has been no opportunity to question Ministers. The House, and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may think that that has nothing to do with Africa, but it does, as unfortunately the Secretary of State has been unable to persuade the Chancellor that there should be extra money for restructuring, so instead it will have to come from DFID's core funding. As a result, we do not know which projects will be cut, and in which developing countries. We have no guarantee that the countries will not be in Africa, so we are concerned that we have missed an opportunity to clear up that matter.

The challenge of Africa remains vast, as the Secretary of State eloquently outlined. The continent is home to 34 of the world's 48 least-developed countries, and the gap between Africa and the rest of the world is growing. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) described Africa as a failing continent. Her phrase has the power to shock, but I instinctively recoil from the judgment implied in it. It sounds as though new Labour is writing off Africa, which I am sure is not what the Government intend.

No one can deny that Africa has particular problems, but what is wrong with the statement is that it masks the real progress that is being made—the kind of progress to which the Secretary of State referred. What is also wrong is that it contains no flicker of recognition of where we have made matters worse. The effect is to exonerate ourselves from blame and to remove the moral obligation to help. Nowhere is that more true than in Zimbabwe.

Conflict, corruption and terrible sickness hold back many African countries, and, together, they contribute to the whole of sub-Saharan Africa being hopelessly off-target to meet the millennium development goals. Is a whole continent to stand condemned for having failed to meet some internationally agreed benchmark of improvement? Should we blame developing countries for not meeting those targets when we could have done more?

By far and away the biggest problem facing Africa is the HIV/AIDS pandemic. I am sorry that it was only fourth in the Secretary of State's list; for me, it comes first. The proportions of the pandemic defy imagination, but that does not mean that we should be beaten by it. We should fight it. Seventy per cent. of the world's HIV/ AIDS sufferers live in southern, sub-Saharan Africa. In Kenya, one person dies from AIDS every minute.

In Malawi, I had the privilege of meeting a man who cares personally for 78 orphans and the same number of widows. I thought that community orphanages were local institutions to house orphans, until I visited the country and found out that they amount only to occasional visits to children who still live in the huts where their parents died.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, however, there are examples of real progress, and Botswana's network of AIDS clinics is surely an example of best practice. AIDS is not just a health issue; it is a development issue. The disease is wiping out the most economically active people. It is attacking the very roots of society. Africa is becoming a continent of grandparents raising their grandchildren, or orphans fighting for survival.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

I am glad that the hon. Lady has mentioned AIDS orphans so early in her speech. Does she agree that, even if we manage to control the growth in the number of AIDS cases anywhere in Africa, the fact that there are already 6 million AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa is a huge problem for the future? Does she ever speculate on what will become of those children? Will they become child soldiers? Will they become involved in civil war? Will they go into prostitution? Does she think that we, as an international community, should put much more emphasis on the needs of those children?

Mrs. Spelman

I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution. We stand united on the question of raising the salience of AIDS orphans, and I do speculate about the issue. I sometimes think that the solution will be on a scale that no one has thought of hitherto. To put things into proportion, I was speculating that it would almost take something like every family in this country adopting an AIDS orphan to arrive at the scale of support that those children need. We do not provide that scale of support currently.

Sadly, the global health fund cannot successfully simultaneously tackle AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis with its limited resources. I wonder whether the Secretary of State agrees that something practical could be done if the fund's limited resources were targeted to provide free antiretrovirals for at least the pregnant women who are HIV-positive. The continent might then stand some chance of raising a generation free of that terrible disease. I feel that the Government has allowed AIDS to slip down the agenda. There is public complacency about AIDS in this country, and it is very difficult to get our countrymen and women to comprehend the scale of the problem when they hear that they can get the necessary life-prolonging drugs on the NHS. The Government must do much more to get this subject back up the agenda. If Africa is failing, it is doing so because it is dying, and we have the resources, if not to cure people, at least to sustain life.

Conflict, as the Secretary of State said, is another reason why Africa is failing to meet the millennium development goals. Many states are still involved in active conflict; others are dealing with the aftermath; and many remain volatile. I have asked the Secretary of State before what is the Department's model for working with a failed or failing state, but the Department does not seem to have an answer. Conflict prevention also seems to have slipped down the agenda. I feel that we do not learn from the examples of failed states and apply those lessons to new scenarios. We as a country continue to give aid to countries that knowingly perpetuate conflict.

I find it extremely frustrating that the United Kingdom is one of Rwanda's major donors, yet there is clear evidence of Rwandan involvement in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The departmental report for this year says that the amount of aid that our country gives to Rwanda will increase. I should like the Secretary of State to explain to the House how he can feel comfortable about giving much more to a nation that is making life so difficult for its neighbour. We supported putting an end to tied aid, but the Government have somehow failed to make aid effective in the promotion of good governance. Surely the Government have the power to threaten to remove some of that aid if that involvement in the Congo continues.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Some hon. Members were in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a few weeks ago, where we met the President and others. He did not take the somewhat negative view that the hon. Lady is taking about Rwanda; nor did he suggest that we should punish the poor in Rwanda because we are trying to find a solution in the Congo. Does she agree that the dialogue begun by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short)—I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is continuing it—with Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC is extremely important if we are to find a genuine solution to that conflict?

Mrs. Spelman

The right hon. Gentleman has long and respected experience of international development. The dialogue is not working, however—it is not stopping rebels going from the Rwandan and Ugandan border to perpetuate the conflict in the eastern Congo. I am simply looking for a tool—clearly not to penalise the poor in that country, as no one in this House would wish to do that—with which to bring the message to the Governments of Rwanda and Uganda that perpetuating the conflict in the Congo must stop.

Hugh Bayley (City of York)

May I tell the hon. Lady that during that visit, my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke), I and other Members had an interesting discussion with members of the new interim power-sharing parliament? They took the view that what was needed to get the so-called negative forces—the Rwandan irregular forces—out of the eastern Congo and back to Rwanda was aid to Rwanda so that those forces would have a livelihood if they went back to their own country. The aid that our country gives to Rwanda is part of the solution to getting the irregular Rwandan rebels out of the eastern Congo and back across the border to their own country, where they can prosper if a rural livelihoods programme is provided through our aid and assistance.

Mrs. Spelman

Again, I respect the hon. Gentleman's long-standing interest in and knowledge of international development. I lack confidence in his theory, however, because current amounts of aid to Rwanda are not stopping the incursions by those rebels. Why should we therefore put more money in the same direction? I do not find the argument compelling. I want to find a tool that will work to pull the rebels out. The most recent report on my desk—I am not sure when right hon. And hon. Members visited the Congo—shows a deteriorating rather than an improving situation. All Members must face up to the fact that what is happening in Kinshasa is very different from what is happening in Ituri.

On the wider subject, I feel that all too often the Department turns a blind eye to examples of poor governance. Tanzania, for example, when given $3 billion of debt relief to be spent on health and education, bought instead a new air defence system. Uganda, too, has been rewarded with aid for very good things, such as reducing AIDS infection, increasing primary education and access to water, all of which are laudable. Meanwhile, a terrible civil war rages in northern Uganda, and in 2002 there were 4,500 child abductions alone. Therein lies my concern: the Government's policy of writing what amount to blank cheques to Governments means that the aid does not necessarily get to the people who need it. When we cannot rely on Governments, surely we must get aid to the people who need it in other ways: through non-governmental organisations, faith-based organisations and even the private sector. We must find those other ways.

As the Secretary of State said, one of the mechanisms that should help good governance is the New Partnership for Africa's Development. We had high hopes for NEPAD, but it has fallen at the first fence with Zimbabwe and has led even the African press to be sceptical. The Kenyan Daily Nation newspaper calls NEPAD "wishful thinking" and Botswana's Mmegi newspaper commented: History shows that African leaders see no evil and hear no evil when dealing with errant leaders. I was very struck by the views of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who said that after her recent visit to Zimbabwe she gained an abiding impression t hat expectation of Zimbabweans from all backgrounds is that the British Government should be able to do something to help".

Although the behaviour of African leaders towards Zimbabwe is seriously wanting, our own Government are not without blame. It is wholly unacceptable for the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe to deteriorate while our country seems to be a passive bystander. I am continually contacted by Zimbabweans who are crying out for someone to help. More than half the Zimbabwean population face food shortages. The regional hospital in Shangani, which served 12,500 families, has closed because it has insufficient food to feed its patients. The water supply in Harare was turned off. Elderly people commit suicide because they cannot afford to stay alive and people bury their loved ones but have to keep guard by the graves because people are stealing coffins. How long does that have to continue before we do something? [HON. MEMBERS: "What?"] Let me come on to that.

I welcome the Government's recent announcement of food aid because such aid is vital, but it is like putting a plaster over a bleeding wound, especially if the aid is diverted to those who should not be the first priority. When will the Government take a lead in the international community and tackle the root cause of the problem? What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that Zimbabwe is at the top of the agenda during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in December? I was asked what we should do. The people of Zimbabwe really need free, fair and democratic elections that are overseen by international election monitors so that they can secure the future that they want without the fear of violence and intimidation.

To the man-made disasters of Africa are added the natural disasters of erratic rainfall and attendant famine. In the southern African region as a whole last year, 14 million people faced starvation. The Department for International Development made the mistake of minimising the scale of the famine by initially describing it as "localised shortages". In addition to that, 13 million people in Ethiopia need food aid this year. Do the Government accept that they were far too slow to react to the warnings of famine, and will the Secretary of State tell the House what they have done to improve their response this year?

Tony Baldry

Before my hon. Friend moves from NEPAD, may I say that the problem is not only Zimbabwe? There is absolutely no reason why the Government of Nigeria should not put Charles Taylor on a plane back to Freetown tonight. He has been indicted by a United Nations war crimes tribunal. I cannot understand why on earth Nigeria, which is a leading member of the Commonwealth and the most prominent Commonwealth country in west Africa, is giving him political asylum—there is no justification for that. He was indicted for war crimes in Sierra Leone by a UN tribunal, so he should go back. Unless that happens, it is difficult to understand how NEPAD can work.

Mrs. Spelman

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend, who makes the point better than me. For the sheer credibility of NEPAD, it must be seen to tackle the situation in countries such as Liberia and to be making peer review work; otherwise, the scepticism that I mentioned will grow.

Mr. Borrow

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Spelman

I shall press on because many hon. Members want to speak in the debate.

Turning to the way in which our nation has made matters worse for Africa, does the Secretary of State accept that our continuing agricultural protectionism is one of the worst offenders? I am sure that the whole House will agree that the failure of the trade talks in Cancun was a disaster, but what confidence does the Secretary of State have that the deal that was in the air at Cancun can be resurrected? Our protectionism, our failure to open our markets and our failure to reform seriously the common agricultural policy all stand as a barrier to the development of poor African nations. That is of special importance for Africa because such a high proportion of people are employed on the land, and often its countries' only exports are agricultural. Does the Government accept that they have botched the privatisation of the Commonwealth Development Corporation, which used to provide the seed-corn capital for agricultural investment but has now switched its strategy to investing in mobile phone companies and shopping malls? It has also shut several offices in Africa.

Related to international trade is the issue of debt relief. A paper published by the International Monetary Fund last week stated that the initiative for heavily indebted poor nations is not relieving some of Africa's poorest nations of their debt burden and is unlikely to produce a sustainable economic situation. At the Labour party conference, the Government said that 23 of the world's most indebted countries have qualified for debt relief, but qualifying and receiving are not the same thing. Only eight countries have completed the debt relief process. The Government must not paint it better than it is. Will the Secretary of State concede that the debt relief process is failing and in need of serious reform? Does he accept that the process needs to be quicker, simpler and more transparent? Without proper sustainable debt relief, many African countries will remain completely incapable of moving forward.

Hilary Benn

On debt relief, will the hon. Lady acknowledge that countries receive the benefit of no longer having to service the debt at decision point, so the benefit comes at that stage even if proceeding to completion takes a bit of time? It is the number of countries at decision point that matters, because that is when they get the benefit by spending less money on servicing the debt, as she knows, and more on health, education and other things.

Mrs. Spelman

I am listening carefully to the Secretary of State, but what worries me about the process is that we are taking a series of snapshots and that countries that we thought had completed the process or were on the way to completing it have become unsustainable again. That is an important argument. We should not be complacent and console ourselves with the thought that those countries are out of the woods and safe once and for all, because often they are not. The process does not cater for that and we should not give ourselves a pat on the back ahead of time.

I feel passionately that the Government pay lip service to the people of Africa and its problems. [Interruption.] Let me remind Labour Members that the Prime Minister said he would like to heal the scars of Africa, but his rhetoric makes not one jot of difference to the Zimbabwean people crying out for help, to the AIDS orphans in Malawi hoping someone will notice them alone in their huts, to the women of the eastern Congo scared to leave their houses for fear of being attacked by the soldiers, or to Zambia, which was promised debt relief back in 2000 and is still up to its ears in debt. It might do the Prime Minister good to look at the number of times the Government have picked at the scar and made it bleed again. Africa does not need any more of the Prime Minister and this Government's rhetoric. It needs effective solutions to tackle the problems that constantly undermine its healing process. Only then can Africa move forward.

4.38 pm
Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I welcome a debate on Africa in the main Chamber. I wish there were more of them. I declare my interest as chair of the all-party group on heavily indebted poor countries. I want to concentrate on the importance of debt relief for African development, in particular the policies instigated by the World Bank and IMF as conditions for that relief.

The good news is that debt relief has been shown to work and is a vital component of allowing African countries to meet the millennium development goals. For those countries that have received assistance, there has been a substantial increase in health and education spending. Several countries have been able to abolish primary school fees, although they in turn have had to cope with huge surges of pupil numbers, with classes of 100-plus not unknown in Kenya and Uganda. However, only 19 per cent. of the poorest countries' debt has been cancelled and only five of the 42 eligible nations have consistently met the conditions and achieve uninterrupted debt relief.

The bad news is that the HIPC initiative does not go far enough and helps too few countries. Even the IMF and World Bank accept that many HIPC nations will not have sustainable levels of debt when they reach completion point. The formula, which is based on a very optimistic prediction of export growth rate that has not come to pass, will not work for many nations and needs to be urgently revised if we are to achieve significant poverty reduction. I know that the Government are working on that problem.

No one would argue about the need to impose conditions on adherence to democratic processes, or to impose financial controls to prevent fraud or misuse of funds and to ensure that they are used for basic services such as health, education and, as we heard this afternoon, the prevention of HIV/AIDS. However, there is increasing disquiet about the continuing practice of the IMF and the World Bank of insisting on conditions that are not directly relevant to debt relief, such as trade liberalisation and privatisation.

The all-party group hosted a meeting last month that was addressed by Demba Dembele of the Forum for African Alternatives from Senegal. He spoke about his country's history, which parallels many of the experiences of sub-Saharan Africa. In the 1960s and '70s, Senegal achieved significant economic results through its agriculture and the strength of its exports. However, by the mid-1970s, a succession of droughts, combined with a series of external shocks and the oil crisis, led to an economic downturn, and the Government were forced to turn to the IMF and World Bank for assistance.

Those institutions in turn applied structural adjustment programmes—the well known SAPs—broadly according to a "one size fits all" philosophy based on cuts in public spending, tight monetary and fiscal policies, export-led growth, liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation of state-owned enterprises. Far from rescuing Senegal from its debt problems, the implementation of those policies since the early 1980s has aggravated the debt burden and undermined the goal of poverty eradication. Low or stagnant economic growth, deterioration in several social sectors and only modest improvement in others has characterised this period of structural adjustment throughout the continent.

In Senegal, debt ratios exploded, and by 2002 the external debt accounted for 70 per cent. of its GDP. In addition, over 70 per cent. of the bilateral debts was composed of arrears. At the same time, the percentage of the population classified as malnourished has increased over the past 10 years, and nearly 80 per cent. are trying to survive on less than $2 a day. The IMF-World Bank SAP policies forced substantial trade liberalisation along with the dismantling of the country's public sector, while at the same time cheap, subsidised imports from the developed world severely affected the agriculture sector, which employs more than 70 per cent. of the population.

The IMF appears to ignore the history of economic growth in most advanced industrial nations, including our own, which relied heavily in their earlier years on selective trade protection policies. Between 1996 and 2000, four of the top five fastest growing developing countries—Guinea, China, Mozambique and the Dominican Republic—were classified as having trade-restrictive policies. Similarly, during the 1990s the IMF ranked Mauritius, which left the SAP in 1988, as one of the most protected economies in the world. But between 1975 and 1999, that country achieved annual per capital growth of 4.2 per cent., a substantial amount, and a reduction in inequality.

After years of denying that debt was a problem. the IMF and the World Bank finally agreed, thanks in large part to the efforts of our Government, to tackle the crisis with the HIPC initiative. The much-derided SAPs have been replaced with plans drawn up by developing countries themselves. That is welcome, but there is increasing evidence that the poverty reduction strategy papers have retained the dominant influence, and veto, of IMF and World Bank officials. Typically, PRSPs require privatisation of public utilities, deregulation and removal of subsidies, and promotion of exports and foreign investment.

I am not arguing that policies such as liberalisation and privatisation are wrong in themselves, but I am sure that the Minister accepts that if such policies are to work, they must be implemented at an appropriate stage in a country's development, with effective Government regulation that is capable of being enforced and with public and democratic support. Sadly, there is no evidence that the IMF and the World Bank are capable of dealing with such subtleties. Surely, if we truly believe in democracy, these decisions are best left to those who live and work in the countries concerned.

In Senegal, one of the conditions of debt relief was the privatisation of its state-owned electricity utility, Senelec, but in industries such as water and energy, there is only a small number of transnational companies that are realistically able to bid for such operations. As a result, Governments are increasingly forced to offer sweeteners to attract the few foreign investors available to take on the contracts. Typical of the energy sector are long-term contractual arrangements that enable companies to be the sole supplier of a service. Frankly, a one-off invitation for tenders from five or six companies that are well known to each other, followed by a 25 to 30-year monopoly before retendering does not deliver much competition or efficiency. For Senegal, instead of the predicted efficiency gains, the transfer of control of its electricity provider into the hands of a French-Canadian company resulted in profit outflows, no new investment and increased power outages, which contributed to a 1.5 per cent. decline in its gross domestic product.

By contrast, there is no sound evidence to suggest that public sector involvement in, or control of, public services is necessarily less efficient or effective for poorer nations. There is growing evidence to suggest that both the public sector and alternative service suppliers such as not-for-profit companies can achieve levels of efficiency equal to or even greater than those achieved by standard privatisation programmes. However, the rigid approach followed by officials of the IMF and the World Bank has done little to encourage the search for alternatives that better suit individual economies. Our own solution of a national rail authority would not accord with IMF criteria.

The IMF and the World Bank believe that PRSPs should allow the involvement of civic society only if that facilitates a debate on issues such as the social impact of policy measures and the pace and sequencing of reforms, and that poverty reduction strategy papers should not consider whether reforms involving liberalisation and privatisation are appropriate in the first place. Despite their attempts to achieve greater democracy and transparency, decisions made by democratic representatives have been ignored. In December last year, the Zambian Parliament voted for a motion urging the Government to rescind their decision to privatise the national bank as part of their debt relief programme. That decision was accepted by the President, but almost immediately there were reports that the IMF was threatening to withdraw debt relief. After talks with the IMF, the Government admitted by the start of April that they were privatising the bank after all. Until now, the IMF and the World Bank have viewed such opposition to their policies as simply the murmuring of vested interests, but there have been repeated incidents of such opposition throughout the developing world, particularly in Africa, in both national parliaments and civic society, as well as many reports of unrest caused directly by IMF policies. Not all of those incidents can be easily dismissed and they should not be used as an excuse to bypass the democratic processes of poorer countries.

I very much welcome our Government's efforts to press for "topping-up" for countries above the debt threshold once they reach completion point, as well as the Government's acceptance of the need to reconsider the methodology, as I have said, to ensure that we obtain genuine debt sustainability once countries have reached that point. As the Secretary of State will be aware, the global economic outlook, falling commodity prices and the HIV/AIDS epidemic will put an especially severe strain on the poorest countries in the next few years. The failure of the recent WTO summit in Cancun, as we discussed in a debate in Westminster Hall on Thursday, will result in yet more barriers to economic growth for the world's poor, particularly in Africa. In that climate, I hope that my right hon. Friend agrees that there is an urgent need to cancel even more debt to allow HIPC countries to meet their millennium development goals and build their way out of poverty. Although G7 countries are committed to reducing the bilateral debt—our own Government have made a generous contribution to that reduction—by 65 per cent., the IMF is committed to a reduction of just 29 per cent. and the World Bank of 33 per cent. Does my right hon. Friend agree that both those institutions need to consider a contingency financing facility to assist HIPC countries and work towards a much higher level of debt cancellation?

In the light of mounting evidence of the failure of IMF-World Bank economic policies to alleviate poverty, particularly in Africa, does my right hon. Friend agree that there should be an immediate explicit commitment to ensure that the provision of both debt relief and new loans from the World Bank and the IMF is not made conditional on privatisation, deregulation or trade liberalisation? Finally, I hope that he agrees that it is now time to give poorer countries much greater control over their own economic policy and allow them to pursue their own routes to development.

4.49 pm
John Barrett (Edinburgh, West)

There is a problem with the title of this debate, as the problem with "strategies" is that what is often required is not more of them, but a single one. In the field of development, especially in respect of Africa, a huge number of individuals, groups, organisations, non-governmental organisations, Governments and international organisations are making significant contributions to deal with the many issues of which we are all aware. The way forward is to develop a strategy to maximise the effectiveness of that effort and to reduce duplication and waste. That should include a listening strategy, because the experts on poverty are the poor. One might supply water to help a village, but when too many wells are being sunk by different groups without an overall strategy, the water table can drop, leaving no water for anyone. That simple lesson shows why, while acting with the best of intentions, we can be on the road to hell.

I shall not raise the following issues in any particular order, and this is not a case of discussing Africa at the expense of Iraq. There are a number of issues and they are complex and interlinked. They include poverty, hunger and food production, which the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) mentioned. Obesity is a problem here in the west while people are starving in Africa, which shows that a worldwide food strategy is required. Health has been mentioned, and we must consider AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and polio, which I shall mention later. Trade is another key factor in this complicated and difficult jigsaw. New alliances have been formed after Cancun. Following relatively disastrous discussions, I hope that this can be the start of a new era in which those new alliances can work together to put their issues at the top of the agenda.

Basic things that we do every day, such as turning on the tap, are major everyday problems throughout much of Africa. Conflict, whether in Sudan, Ethiopia or elsewhere, has been mentioned. The debt process and the position on heavily indebted poor countries were well covered by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin). Other issues include religious divides between Christians and Muslims, the matter of orphans, which has been mentioned, security and terrorism, corruption in a number of countries, including Malawi and Nigeria, wealth distribution, resources and natural mineral resources. Some countries have ongoing problems of the sort that we know a lot about with regard to Ethiopia, as well as Zimbabwe, which has also been mentioned.

Those are some of the issues that hon. Members will wish to deal with, and I shall try to avoid those that have already been raised and well covered. In the past few months, we have had several debates, mostly in Westminster Hall, about specific African countries, including Ethiopia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and, of course, Zimbabwe. All those discussions have served to educate and advance the debate and to put before Ministers the detailed issues that need to be addressed in each of those countries. I hope that this debate will serve the same purpose. At a time when the world's attention is understandably focused on Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan, such debates allow us to return to the part of the globe that the Prime Minister—the hon. Member for Meriden also mentioned this comment—has described as a scar on the conscience of the world. He also said that we could heal that scar or it could become deeper and angrier.

I do not question the integrity of those in the Chamber and a number of the groups and organisations that we deal with. I am sure that people are working towards the same goal—improving the lot of many people in Africa with whom we would fear to exchange positions. As the Minister and the hon. Member for Meriden have mentioned, Africa has great problems and needs. Of course, progress has been made in some areas, and it is important to recognise that that is the case. Nevertheless, from the troubled peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea to the food requirements of Angola, the HIV problems of Zimbabwe and Botswana and ongoing problems in Liberia, there is a lot to be done, and I appreciate that there are many more issues to discuss than we can possibly mention this afternoon.

The Government must be given credit for the money that they have given and the role that they have played in trying to improve the lives of people in Africa. The Department for International Development is widely recognised as having taken a leading role in international development in the region, and the simple existence of a Department focused on development has allowed greater priority to be placed on these issues. I shall not forget the first-hand stories that I have heard about how DFID's interventions have changed lives—many from people who otherwise might not be alive today.

At the same time, though, increasing performance leads to increasing expectations. That is no bad thing: we should constantly aim for better performance, greater results and higher goals. Internationally, many of those targets have already been set through the millennium development goals, several of which have deadlines that are only 10 or 12 years away. It goes without saying that those targets are very challenging, especially in Africa. Figures from the World Bank show the enormous differences between African nations and developing countries in other parts of the world. In terms of progress towards the millennium development goals, for example, only 13 per cent. of countries in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to meet the goal of halting and reversing the spread of HIV-AIDS, compared with 63 per cent. of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. On child mortality, only 18 per cent. of sub-Saharan African countries are expected to meet the goal of reducing the child mortality rate by two thirds, compared with 76 per cent. of countries in south Asia. On perhaps the most important indicator of all—reducing poverty and cutting by half the numbers living on less than a dollar a day—Africa is the only region that is projected by the World Bank's sustained growth forecasts not to meet that goal. It is clear from those statistics that Africa, more than any other region of the world, remains the greatest challenge to the international community.

So where do we go from here? What can we do to try to turn the situation around? Of course, overseas aid remains one of the most straightforward instruments for achieving change. During our inquiry into financing for development, the Select Committee on International Development was informed by the African Development Bank that an extra $20 billion to $25 billion would be needed every year to enable those African countries that can use aid effectively to meet the millennium development goals. Indeed, the United Nations Development Programme and UNICEF predict that development targets will not be met in Africa unless those additional substantial resources are provided.

As I said, the Government have a good record on overseas aid, but the Secretary of State will expect to hear me say that there is still room for improvement. I accept that increasing UK development aid to the UN target of 0.7 per cent. would involve a substantial increase in spending, but I want to pursue this point: if he cannot, for whatever reason, increase our aid to that 0.7 per cent. figure, will he at least set a timetable for reaching it, as called for by non-governmental organisations? In response to a parliamentary question, I was told that such matters extending beyond 2006 are matters for future Parliaments and future Governments. That is a cop-out. I cannot understand why the Government can set a 10-year transport target, but not targets for international aid: it just does not make sense.

Of course, it is not just about the volume or the quantity of aid, but about using it efficiently and effectively for the greatest impact. That is why the European Union can come in for some strong criticism, because, although about 70 per cent. of UK aid is given to low-income countries such as those in Africa, only 40 per cent. of the aid that is distributed by the EU is poverty-focused. Worse still, over the past 10 years the percentage of EU aid given to the lowest-income countries has decreased from 70 per cent. Half our overseas aid is distributed by the EU, and the Secretary of State clearly has a role to play in improving those figures. The EU spends an enormous amount of money on our behalf—money that could undoubtedly be used a lot better. Every step should be taken to improve the efficiency of that aid so that countries and people in Africa can benefit.

But aid alone will not be enough to help Africa and its people out of poverty. One of the greatest gifts that we can give to the region is to allow Africa and its people the necessary tools to help them. Last week in Westminster Hall, we had a useful debate on the International Development Committee's report on issues from Cancun. I do not want to rehearse those arguments, but it is clear that reform of international trade rules would massively benefit Africa's development. The oft-repeated statistic is that if Africa increased its exports by just 1 per cent., it would generate five times what the region receives in aid. That should continually remind us of the prizes that are there to be won if we have the perseverance to fight for them.

As was said during last week's debate, Cancun was a major setback in the campaign for fairer trade rules, but the determination and momentum for change remain. Africa as a region would be one of the greatest beneficiaries of such a change. When I visited Ethiopia—a country in the stranglehold of the international coffee crisis—with Oxfam this year, I was struck by the real potential that exists there, if only the rules of the international stage were such that it could play its proper part.

The issue of AIDS is important, but reforming trade rules, tackling the billions of pounds of domestic support that African nations simply cannot match, stopping the dumping that prices African farmers out of their own markets, and ending the tariffs and quotas that stop African exports would all make an enormous contribution to ending the poverty and to improving the economic development of the region. I appreciate that getting those reforms is not solely in the hands of the Secretary of State or the UK Government, but they have an important role to play as the champion of the poor, standing up for countries that, for whatever reason, cannot help themselves. We should have fair trade, not just free trade.

One of the greatest challenges facing Africa is the spread of HIV and AIDS. Thirty million people are now infected in sub-Saharan Africa, with a new infection occurring every nine seconds. Someone dies every 13 seconds. From the moment the Secretary of State opened this debate to the moment that you close our proceedings, Mr. Deputy Speaker, an estimated 1,200 people will have contracted HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, and 830 people will have died. The HIV prevalence rate in some countries now exceeds 30 per cent., with almost 40 per cent. of the people in Botswana infected. One of the tragic aspects of this is that the relatively speedy development of Botswana could be linked to the increasing spread of HIV, through increased affluence, mobility and access to alcohol, and the knock-on effects that those factors can have.

The AIDS virus is now ripping apart the society of many African countries, leaving millions of orphans, as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) has mentioned. Agricultural knowledge is simply not being passed on from parent to child, and when it is, the children are too young, and their parents too sick, to work the land. HIV is far from being a poor man's illness. Teachers, nurses and other professionals are also dying, damaging the few already fragile mechanisms in place for basic health care and education. It is a real problem to have discussions with a group of key decision makers whose priority is to think in the long term, if those people might not be there in the long term. Christian Aid has predicted that if more is not done, 15 million people will die of HIV by 2007. Many of those deaths can be prevented, however.

The recent agreement on the reform of trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights by the US, India, South Africa and others is a major step forward in terms of providing medicines in Africa, but drug availability is not the answer in itself. More must be done to build the infrastructure and delivery mechanisms there, so that more people can be given better treatment. More education is required, along with the very best of preventive health care, to teach people about HIV and its dangers.

Better use can surely be made of the global health fund. I am well aware of the extra resources that the Government have pledged towards the fund, but it is still one of the greatest underused mechanisms for the co-ordination and execution of our war against this disease. I would also praise the work of the company Diageo for the work that it has done in providing free antiretroviral drugs to those in its work force who require it. That has set a valuable example for other companies to follow.

While HIV and AIDS kill during war and peacetime, conflict between nations only adds to the barriers to poverty reduction and economic development. When more money is spent on guns than schoolbooks, and when there are more soldiers than doctors, we can never hope to achieve our goals in Africa. That is why conflict prevention and conflict resolution are so important. The recent progress made in Sudan, with the signing of a security framework, is a major step forward. The news yesterday that United Nations peacekeepers are to fly back to Liberia following evidence of renewed fighting only confirms that work remains to be done there.

In Somalia, 10 years after the failed US intervention, there remains no central Government in a country of warring factions that is, as the US ambassador warned, a potential seedbed for terrorism. In Ethiopia and Eritrea, all steps must be taken to encourage the respective authorities to sign up to the proposed new border to avoid further conflict. Without stability, we will never be able to attract the investment—especially private investment—that Africa desperately needs. Without good governance, in which the international community has its part to play, there will be little confidence in financing projects. For Africa, the New Partnership for Africa's Development will play an important part in that. We must encourage African nations to police each other effectively; at the same time, we must be there as a friend to the region to offer assistance if and when it is required.

One of the most critical aspects of development is not only looking to the future, but learning from the past, as mistakes are not pointless if lessons really are learned. During the food crisis that threatened southern Africa last year, the early warning systems failed. We must learn from what happened—the detail of how the UK and other donor nations responded has been debated at great length in the House—but, as the hon. Member for Meriden pointed out, there is clear evidence coming forward of warnings being given, especially by those working on the ground, that we are facing other potential crises in southern and eastern Africa.

I have also received information suggesting that countries such as Lesotho, which suffered badly last year, are also facing food shortages because of adverse weather. I note that the simple problem with shipping in Angola recently had a major impact on food aid availability and distribution.

Those events present us with short-term and longterm challenges. Naturally, in the short term the UK Government have a responsibility to respond to the crisis that is developing, assisting in the provision of food and water aid while encouraging others to follow suit. However, in the long term we must ensure that the potential for such crises occurring in the first place is diminished. We cannot go through the same sequence of events every year, where erratic rainfall leads to a poor harvest, which leads to a food crisis.

With global warming and more unpredictable weather conditions, the frequency of those external shocks will surely increase. We have to ensure that the damage that they can inflict is minimised, although I appreciate that that is not easy to achieve. However, diversification of agriculture, or even reducing the dependence on agriculture, as well as use of drought-resistant crops and ensuring that better infrastructure is in place can all be carried forward.

As I said at the beginning of my contribution, the Government are to be commended for the action that they have taken in Africa—undoubtedly, they have played one of the leading roles—but further action can be taken and further progress made. Africa's development should concern us all. We should not tolerate such poverty. We would not tolerate it in our own country and we must not tolerate it in Africa either. We must never forget that Africa will not make it alone.

5.7 pm

Mr. Tony Colman (Putney)

I think I am the first inner-London Member of Parliament to contribute to the debate. May I do so especially by saying that the issue of African development arises on the doorsteps of Putney because people are concerned as to what is going wrong? However, I speak not in particular for the trade justice groups and the Churches, as Putney is the location of the headquarters of Voluntary Service Overseas, which I commend to the House.

I also have in my constituency the world centre of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, which has not only just opened the largest mosque in Europe, but which finances the largest non-governmental organisation, Humanity First. It provides schools and health care throughout Africa. Vegpro, a large vegetable processing company that imports from east and central Africa, is also based in my constituency, as is Nando's retail chain, whose world headquarters are in Putney and in South Africa.

It is perhaps as important and intriguing to note that there are some 25,000 South Africans in Putney. Clearly, when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House came here as an asylum seeker—a refugee—in the 1970s, others followed. I am pleased to pay tribute to the work being done by the Reverend Stephen Melhuish at, to pick out one church, St. Michael's in Southfields, which has some 500 South African members and is twinned with a number of parishes in South Africa. It works with those parishes on issues to do with HIV/AIDS, and in particular works with HIV/AIDS orphans.

This issue very much affects me at my surgeries and on the doorsteps of Putney, and I want to take a different approach to it from others who spoke before me. I do not mean that they are wrong; I simply think that an alternative voice needs to be put forward.

I want to talk about trade, taxation, education and health care.

I do not want to repeat what was said in Thursday's excellent Westminster Hall debate, but I want to refer to the 2002 African trade report produced by the African Export-Import bank, based in Egypt. It demonstrates that Africa may not be the basket case that many consider it to be. It is in fact a vibrant continent with many great successes and enormous potential, some of which has already been fulfilled. In 2002 it achieved a trade surplus of US$4.2 billion—a fall from the 2001 figure of US$5.59 billion, but that is partly due to the growth in imports. As the Secretary of State said, there was a 3.5 per cent. increase in trade in 2002, as against a 1 per cent. contraction in 2001.

According to this reference book—apparently the only one available from African sources—Africa's share of world trade in 2002 was 1.93 per cent. That was a slight increase on the previous year's figure; of course, world trade increased. The value of intra-African trade grew by 6 per cent. during that year. It is interesting to see the list of countries that are rapidly increasing the percentages of their total trade that represent trade with the rest of Africa. Uganda's percentage is 43, Niger's 39, Mali's 38, Burkina Faso's 37 and Mozambique's 36. One important subject that we did not discuss on Thursday is the World Bank figures, which show that if Africa traded more with Africa across state boundaries there would be a significant improvement, and greater employment possibilities. I commend the work of COMESA, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, based in Lusaka, and that of SADC—the Southern African Development Community—which I think is based in Gabarone. I am glad that those bodies are working jointly, and that there is potential for an Africa-wide free trade area.

Let me now say something about tax. The Secretary of State said that he had attended the United Nations General Assembly special session on finance for development—last week, I think. Perhaps in the winding-up speech we could hear a comment on the suggestion by Jose Antonio Ocampo, the United Nations Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, that the UN should be the forum for global dialogue on tax matters. As trade increased and the multinationals became increasingly involved, the UN should consider the issues involved—not necessarily tariff issues, which are a matter for the World Trade Organisation, but the taxing of exports and the corporation tax profits of companies trading in Africa.

It is important for they're to be a UN approach rather than, as it were, a race to the bottom. Many people have criticised the UN global compact: the state voices seem to have been muted, and the multinationals are making the running. Perhaps, given his attendance at UNGASS, the Secretary of State will say something about that.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

How far does the international body seek to influence, for example, Chad, which is one of the poorest countries? Will any of the oil that is being produced get back to Chad, so that it can build up its own economic prosperity?

Mr. Colman

The World Bank, through the International Finance Corporation, has laid down strict rules—for the first time, I believe—whereby the taxes paid by the oil companies must be spent on such things as education and health. I understand that that is being overseen by the World Bank. I read in the newspapers that there was something of a slip-up in the first few days, and that the purchasing of some arms was allowed. But the overall view is that this is the way forward to ensure that, if a new form of finance is available, the first call must be on health and education. However, it is for each sovereign African state to take its own decisions. As many of our International Development Committee reports have said, the important thing is for each country to have the policy space to take its own decisions on trade, tax, health care and education.

Returning to tax, I think it important that, as Members who are interested in international development, we do not allow the wealthy in developing countries to get off the hook. I am saddened by the fact that very little tax is paid by the wealthy in many African countries. According to any interpretation of policy space, taxation policy and how to raise taxes should be matters on which the country in question decides, although it may wish to seek outside advice. I was interested to meet a constituent of mine who is working for Crown Agents, advising on public accounting standards and taxation in Mozambique. He asked, "Are you surprised that I consider this an important area?" I said, "No—it is important to build a local tax base." Unless people feel that they have a stake in the schools and clinics that they have contributed to—the sums contributed from their pockets may be small, but they constitute a large proportion of their income—they will not regard such facilities as their own. In Pakistan, there is a virtual resurgence of local health care and education, because local government legislation allows local councils to levy local taxes. Because taxes are levied locally, local constituents make sure that the teachers and nurses are there. That has not happened before.

On schooling, everyone in this House would support the Dakar declaration of 2000, which ensures that schooling is carried through. My concern is that in doing so, we make sure that account is taken of what is happening on the ground. There is an element of private education in virtually every African country, and in that regard an interesting exchange of letters between Professor James Tooley and Oxfam's Kevin Watkins took place in today's Financial Times. The latter said that he is not against the provision of private education, but he also said that the main provision should be through the state. As a Labour MP, I strongly support that view.

We should however consider private finance initiatives and public-private partnerships, which the Department for International Development has yet to do, as an alternative way forward. We are building schools all over Britain on the basis of PFI and PPP; could similar arrangements be made available if the country concerned wished to have them? The same is true of health care. We were all galvanised into action at the Labour party conference when the Chancellor of the Exchequer talked about the international financing facility's providing a health service for Africa. It is important to point out that hospitals all over Africa are empty and in decline because they have been built in the wrong places, and the doctors and nurses cannot be afforded. There is a need to ensure wrap-around health care. I ask whether there is a way forward by adapting for Africa the public-private partnerships that are getting hospitals built here. That could be done within a 30 or 25-year time frame, which would ensure that doctors and nurses got paid and that the hospitals were of a suitable quality for local people.

I pay tribute to AAR Health Services, which is chaired by Lord Enniskillen. It is the main private health provider in east Africa. Its founder was Bengt Beckman, whom I have met. His widow, Mrs. Beckman, took me to see the clinics—they are partly financed by the Department for International Development—around Nairobi. There were four clinics there, a further two in Tanzania and one will soon open in Kampala. This is an attempt to provide good quality health care on an affordable basis for the poorest people in east Africa. It is an interesting initiative and I praise DFID for working on this public-private partnership, albeit one that has not seen much light of day.

To conclude, it is not just a matter of trade: it is also a matter of aid. When I used to meet the noble Lord Bauer, who has since died, back in the 1960s, I used to fight him continually—almost physically—on his view that aid would corrupt the African continent and lead to 30 or 40 years of slow development. In his view, trade was the only way forward. I now believe that he was half right, but that I was half right, too. We need both. Africa needs the policy space to decide how best to go forward, but the idea in my speech should be taken into account. Progress can be made in the form of a partnership and through properly taxing business, but that will not deliver the whole answer for health care and education—only part of it.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)

Order. Before I call the next Member to speak, I have observed that many hon. Members are still seeking to catch my eye, so unless contributions are reasonably short, many of them will be disappointed.

5.22 pm
Tony Baldry (Banbury)

There are times when I think that the divisions in the Chamber are pretty stupid, because it is clear that on a subject such as this most of us are agreed. I have listened to the speeches of the Secretary of State, of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin) and of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman), and I suspect that we are all in agreement. I see in their place six hon. Members who serve on the International Development Committee. So far, our Committee has produced about 12 reports during this Parliament, which must amount to about 1,000 recommendations, all of which have been unanimous. There are so many issues on which we all agree that we sometimes need to think about how the House could express its collective view more effectively.

I want to ask the Secretary of State about the New Partnership for Africa's Development. We in the House are all passionate supporters of that new partnership, but it is a deal and a two-way deal, and many feel uncomfortable about countries such as Zimbabwe, Liberia and others. We are all Commonwealth parliamentarians in the House—all members of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association—but what has been happening in Zimbabwe is wholly unacceptable.

It is frustrating for all of us that President Mbeki of South Africa and others have not been more effective on that issue. He and I were students together at Sussex University. In fact, there are more Sussex university graduates in the South African Parliament than in the House, although there is quite a number in both. South Africa has tried the soft approach to Zimbabwe and it has not worked. To be honest, we should express our concern that more needs to be said about Zimbabwe. It is undergoing complete collapse, with huge rates of inflation that we can barely understand and many newspapers being closed down. That is wholly unacceptable.

On Sierra Leone, I am at a loss to understand the position of President Obasanjo of Nigeria over Charles Taylor. I understand that, from a realpolitik view, it was sensible to get Taylor out of Liberia, but he has been indicted by a UN war crimes tribunal. Indeed, we did much to set up that tribunal, and the deputy prosecutor in Sierra Leone is a United Kingdom Queen's Counsel. It was set up because the United States and United Kingdom Governments were concerned that al-Qaeda had been financed through blood diamonds from Sierra Leone.

One of the reasons for the UN treaty with Sierra Leone was the anticipation that sufficient prima facie evidence would be found to indict Charles Taylor for war crimes. He and his forces had the greatest responsibility for war crimes in Sierra Leone. We should remember that the war crimes in Sierra Leone involved people being asked whether they wanted to be left handed or right handed and a machete being taken to the other hand or arm. They were serious crimes, but Charles Taylor has been given political asylum in Nigeria. I genuinely do not understand that.

The House—not just the Government—needs to make it clear to our parliamentary colleagues in Nigeria and South Africa that we will do our bit in terms of development aid for Africa, but we expect them to do their bit in terms of governance. We are not asking a huge amount. All we are asking them to do is to exercise some influence on parliamentary colleagues in Nigeria and Zimbabwe and elsewhere. We are entitled to ask that collectively, as the House of Commons, and to look to the Government to say to President Mbeki and President Obasanjo that we expect them to do their bit.

We had an excellent debate in Westminster Hall last week on targets, so I shall say only that the litmus test for the Doha development round will be cotton. The Under-Secretary will have taken that on board and we will see what we manage to achieve.

Nor shall I say much about conflict, because we will have a debate on Thursday on the Quadripartite Committee's reports, which will give us the opportunity to talk about arms exports. I hope that one of the millennium development goals will be to reduce substantially the number of children in Africa running around with AK47s. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) and others have worked hard on such issues as they affect the great lakes area. One of the real tragedies of northern Uganda and Sierra Leone has been the number of young people involved in perpetrating the conflict.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the chance to mention the golden opportunity facing the great lakes region at present. Very positive things are happening in Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and this is a wonderful opportunity for the House to show that we will support their transition to democracy along the lines of good governance, and how they can be full partners in NEPAD.

Tony Baldry

Everyone in the House would rejoice if we could achieve that, as they would if we could make advances in Sudan—it looks as if that might happen—and in Somalia, although that may be more difficult. That would be fantastic news, but there are far too many small arms swilling around in Africa. I hope that we can debate that issue on Thursday.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill was right to remind us, with her long list of important statistics, that we have not yet achieved as much as many of us hoped we would on the HIPC programme and debt relief. We must not forget the issue. The tendency is to remember the Jubilee debt relief campaign and think that we have ticked that box, but work remains to be done.

I want to raise two matters with the Secretary of State. First, DFID's policy for many years has been about sustainable livelihoods. There is a real concern in Africa that sustainable livelihoods have tended to become subsistence livelihoods. A friend of mine is a parliamentarian in one of the west African states, and he said that Africa's was a "chickenfeed" economy.

Last year, the Select Committee on International Development reported on the humanitarian crisis in southern Africa. Many of our conclusions concentrated on ways of enhancing agriculture in Africa. I appreciate that these things go through cycles, and that concern about agriculture extension may look a bit passé, but we must enhance agricultural production in Africa, and enterprise. Understandably, much of DFID's work is devoted to health, education and good governance, but where are the new jobs to come from? Unemployment in the townships outside Johannesburg or Pretoria is about 60 or 70 per cent. How is that sustainable? How are we going to create new enterprise and new jobs in Africa, and attract foreign direct investment?

Secondly, the House displays enormous unity when it comes to wanting to enhance the position in Africa, but some uncomfortable truths remain. For many, the litmus test of whether we can address those truths is whether we can confront some of our parliamentary colleagues—in Zimbabwe, Liberia, Sierra Leone and some other countries—and tell them that what they are doing is unacceptable.

If we cannot do that, and be honest in our relationship with Africa, there is a real danger that we will continue merely to make great, Panglossian speeches about HIV/AIDS and other matters that require real political leadership. We have a shared responsibility to say that the standards of behaviour acceptable in Africa must be as high as those that are expected elsewhere in the world. We will do our bit—and more than our bit—with NEPAD and other initiatives, but the compact must be mutual. Others must do their bit in the deal: if they do not, Africa will always be going backwards; if they do, Africa might be able to move forwards.

5.32 pm
Hugh Bayley (City of York)

I agree with the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) about the need for political leadership in Africa, but we also have to provide technical assistance. People can lead effectively only when they know where they are going.

I want to speak about HIV/AIDS in Africa. The Department has funded collaboration between researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London, at Johns Hopkins University in the US, and at Kintampo in Ghana. The research has identified an extremely cheap treatment that involves giving vitamin A supplements to children from birth to five years of age. The treatment dramatically reduces infection rates for tuberculosis, malaria and even mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.

That work has been done in Africa, in collaboration with—and funded by—our Government. We need to provide that sort of technical information and assistance, to enable their leaders to lead. The treatment has been shown to be effective, and the hon. Member for Banbury is right to say that we should expect our Government to provide funding to roll it out across the continent—and that we should expect leaders in Africa to show that vitamin A is an important part of Africa's defence against opportunist infections.

Before we get too locked into gloom and doom about the enormous challenges faced by Africa, we should note that parts of Africa are developing and moving closer to the millennium goals. Between 1990 and 2000, according to the latest human development report from the United Nations Development Programme, the percentage of children completing five years of primary education in Namibia increased from 62 per cent. to 92 per cent. Over the same period, infant mortality in Uganda fell from 100 deaths per thousand live births to 79 deaths per thousand live births. In Ghana, the number of under-nourished adults and children fell from 35 per cent. to 12 per cent. of the population. With political leadership and development assistance, real progress can be made.

In many parts of the continent, however, things are moving backwards. Development is being undermined by bad governance, conflict, environmental degradation and the three great health pandemics of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. As has already been pointed out, 10 per cent. of the world's population live in Africa, but 70 per cent. of those who are HIV-positive live in that continent. AIDS has surpassed malaria as the most common cause of death in Africa and kills many, many more Africans each year than all the conflicts in that conflict-riven continent. By 2005, AIDS will kill more Africans than all other causes of death put together.

Life expectancy has fallen dramatically in many African countries. In Zimbabwe, average life expectancy has fallen from 59 to 43 years; in Botswana, it has fallen from 62 to 36 years. The population of South Africa—a developing country—is falling in absolute terms. It is almost unbelievable, but the population is being reduced due to the AIDS death toll. However, in other parts of Africa, such as Madagascar or Senegal, life expectancy is rising, because the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is much lower.

It is difficult to understand the scale of the crisis. In Botswana, for example, 39 per cent. of adults are HIV-positive. The figure is 34 per cent. in Zimbabwe, 20 per cent. in South Africa and 15 per cent. in both Malawi and Kenya. That means that 40 per cent. of the adults in Botswana will die over the next few years; one in three Zimbabwean adults with children will die, and one in five South Africans will die.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State so rightly pointed out, our continent has not faced a health catastrophe of that kind since the black death, which halved the population of our country. It took 400 years for our population to recover. That is a measure of the economic consequence of such a large-scale health crisis.

There is another parallel that we should use—hard though it is. About 20 million Africans have already died from AIDS. UNAIDS estimates that another 55 million could die by 2020. From 1500 until the end of the 19th century, the slave trade transported about 18 million Africans out of the continent and it probably killed about 50 million Africans, many of whom died before they left the coasts of Africa. However, the economic impact of the AIDS pandemic could be as great or greater than that of the slave trade, even though that trade may have been the reason that Africa fell behind other developing regions of the world.

The epidemic has social, political, economic and security implications. Several hon. Members have referred to the numbers of AIDS orphans. I have read that there are already 11 million AIDS orphans in Africa. Even if we could wave a magic wand to stop HIV infection instantly and completely, the number of orphans would continue to rise as those who are already infected die.

In 1995, there were virtually no AIDS orphans in South Africa. This year, there are about 500,000. By 2006, the number is likely to rise to 1 million; by 2008, to 1.5 million; and, by 2010, to something like 2 million children. If our children's services in the United Kingdom had to cope with that number of children, they would be utterly overwhelmed, and South Africa does not start with state children's services of the type that we have in this country.

By the time that parents die from AIDS, their families will already be in dire straits. A five-year retrospective study of AIDS-affected families in Zambia found that the average monthly disposable income for families with AIDS fell by 80 per cent. compared with non-infected families. So when they are orphaned the children are already malnourished and, more likely than not, they are already out of school and over-worked caring for siblings and trying to till the land to create an income for the family. The families are likely to have sold their possessions. When the parents die, their children often lose their homes as well.

When some AIDS specialists spoke to the all-party Africa group about AIDS in Africa recently, one of the researchers told us about meeting three children walking along a road in South Africa 20 miles from town. All three were stark naked and under the age of 10. When he talked to them, they said that their second parent had died that morning, but they had heard that their mother had a sister whom they had never met living in the town, and they were walking to town to try to find someone to care for them.

The social and economic consequences are enormous. In our report on the famine in southern Africa, the International Development Committee identified the HIV epidemic as a very important component of the crisis. We also identified that, first, the initial defence against HIV is food. Secondly, food shortages arise to a great extent because of the inability of so many families weakened by HIV to till the land and grow food. So technical work needs to be done in this country and in Africa, supported by our money, to find new crops that need less weeding, less watering and shallower ploughing. We can make a real contribution, so that the leadership in Africa can deliver some results.

We clearly saw the impact caused by the loss of specialists—the relatively few nurses and teachers and the very few economists and trade negotiators in developing countries. In a meeting with the Malawian agriculture department, we sat round a table with a dozen top officials. I forget exactly how many of them were HIV-positive—we were told after the meeting—but I think that it was four or five. In other words, a third of the top officials of the department of agriculture would be taken away from the Malawian Government, and they have no way to replace them.

The situation is absolutely dreadful, but it is not so dreadful that nothing can be done about it. The Secretary of State mentioned the positive policies that the Ugandan Government have pursued to combat problems there.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman giving way on that point and I agree with everything that he has said. Does he agree that the House should also pay tribute to those grandparents and others who are seeking to help those orphaned children and to those involved in education who are seeking to change the thought processes of political leaders and others in Africa so that they are more positive in dealing with the problem?

Hugh Bayley

I am conscious that I must make progress, but I wish to say that the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The number of orphans will rise dramatically over the next 10 or 15 years, so we must use that time to find ways to provide care and support through the extended family, the state and the education system for children who lose their parents; otherwise, some of those countries will become failed states and descend into anarchy, with an uneducated population who are unable to contribute to the development of their country.

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Does my hon. Friend agree that if we do as he suggests on education, we will start to create a win-win situation? One of the issues at the root of HIV/AIDS and poverty is the poor access of all children, particularly girls, to primary and secondary education. Does he therefore agree that almost nothing represents better value for money when dealing with some of issues he has identified than an emphasis on education?

Hugh Bayley

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The message is that this crisis is so severe that we can only tackle it by mainstreaming AIDS policy in every area of our development assistance policy, and by Governments in Africa mainstreaming it in every area of their policy. If that does not happen, we will not have a significant enough effect on reducing infection, on mitigating the effects of the disease on the victims or their orphans, or on treating the disease. AIDS policy therefore needs to become part of mainstream development strategies.

One area where I saw that happening was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. To declare an interest, as a member of the all-party great lakes region group, I visited the country three weeks ago, funded by the Congolese Government. There, we met members of MONUC, the UN mission, whose soldiers provide security so that the fragile interim administration can maintain peace and work towards elections in 20 months' time. MONUC requires all soldiers who join its mission, from any country, to undergo an AIDS training programme before they arrive. They must come with AIDS public health information packs and AIDS treatment and testing packs, and must carry out at least one project with the community and the country to deal with the AIDS crisis. AIDS action therefore needs to be woven into every part of its work, and that must also apply to every part of the Department for International Development's operations, whether in health, education or rural development.

MONUC has a responsibility for disarming the irregular forces—the so-called negative forces—in the eastern Congo and for aiding their repatriation to their countries of origin. Uganda and Rwanda. It finds it extremely difficult to persuade people to give up arms because it can provide no incentive for doing so. In Sierra Leone, the U N could provide cash in return for weapons, and it would like to be in a position to do the same in the DRC. I hope that our Department will consider that option. Perhaps it should not offer cash but initiate a "work for weapons" programme to build roads, as one of the difficulties facing the UN is that there are no roads to get those disarmed soldiers out of the country. We might therefore be able to create a win-win situation.

The interim administration is a huge step forward for the DRC after six years of civil war. It is, however, extremely fragile. If it achieves the task of running a free and fair election in 20 months' time it will be the first time that the country has held such an election for more than 40 years, and I hope that the UK will look at how to support the institution-building process and the election preparations so that that election can go forward safely.

The UK has provided a lot of money for AIDS. As the Secretary of State said, the budget when we came into office in 1997 was £38 million a year and it was £270 million last year. However, when I examined the policy information marker system to find out where the money went, I noticed that £54 million went to Africa last year, while £80 million went to Asia and £163 million was provided through non-regional-specific allocations. I hope that the Secretary of State will examine the allocation of resources for Africa, which is where 70 per cent. of the HIV-positive population lives, relative to other parts of the world. I am suggesting not that he takes away money from other parts of the world but that he ensures that Africa receives sufficient resources.

5.50 pm
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire)

I am delighted to follow a succession of speeches by members of the Select Committee on International Development, each of whom is more distinguished than I. Their insights gave an indication of why it is such a pleasure to serve on that Committee. I noted that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman). who has just left the Chamber, said that he had been galvanised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech at the party conference in Bournemouth. I am the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the leader of the Conservative party for the next 48 hours, so hon. Members might like to tell the hon. Gentleman that I have developed a sixth sense for comments that might be a veiled attack on a leader. However, he can be reassured that his comments will remain confidential between us.

I also beg the House's forgiveness. I have the honour of being the Member of Parliament for the constituency in which the headquarters of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds resides. I am sponsoring a reception for the RSPB and it would like me to introduce a Minister at half-past six, so I would be most grateful if I could be excused from the winding-up speeches.

It is easy during such debates to be either too wide ranging or to create the impression of being overwhelmed by the multiplicity of issues that affect African development and stand in the way of Africa's progress. Africa will triumph and we should not deny for a moment the extraordinary hope and aspirations of its people that will break through. I would like to concentrate on one or two narrower aspects of development issues—I do not wish to suggest that I am neglecting other things about which hon. Members have spoken—because otherwise where would I start? Should one start by talking about trade and justice or AIDS, as the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) did so movingly and passionately, if I may say so? I had the honour of being in the audience when Nelson Mandela spoke to the International Red Cross in London in July. Among other things, he said: AIDS represents a tragedy of unprecedented proportion … claiming", in Africa, more lives that the sum total of all wars, famines and floods and the ravages of such deadly diseases as malaria. The hon. Gentleman was not wrong to devote his speech to the problem of HIV/AIDS.

We cannot forget the age-old problems of famine, conflict and debt, but I want to direct my attention away from such matters and reflect a little, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), on the importance of governance to the future of Africa and the role that that must play in its future development. My interest in Africa, and especially South Africa, is coupled with that of two other hon. Members—the hon. Members for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). They are two Christian friends with whom I have shared many journeys to that country. Our visits and interest date back to 1986 when we visited South Africa in the teeth of the apartheid regime and our visits have continued up until Whitsuntide this year when the three of us made what was our fifth or sixth visit—either singly or together—since that time. We have seen the extraordinary changes that have taken place in South Africa and have been privileged to share contacts with people in government and business, and churches and township communities. The hand of friendship has been extended to us by all races in all parts of the country. The three of us are touched by South Africa and our friendship is marked and defined by our experiences there. We shall always support its people.

I believe that the development of Africa will increasingly become of mainstream political importance for people in the UK and Europe. European history is bound up with Africa and we retain the connections of the centuries that neither time nor contemporary politics can change or deny in any way. We are as much a part of Africa's future as it was of our past.

It is argued that Africa will become of greater importance to us in the future. The nature of global politics is changing and Africa's importance will be fully realised in due course, for in the long term events are moving in a direction that is changing the geopolitical balance. Two examples illustrate that. First, we are beginning to recognise that a world of major power blocs put together is breaking down. Blocs based on former security issues or older established trading patterns are no longer as rigid or certain as they were. The old context of security and ideological issues that defined European, western and world politics for so long is becoming redundant. Terrorism is taking some of the place of conventional warfare. Trade and development is arising as the longer-term alternative to colonialism. Secondly, the new politics of the world will be based on different matters and issues than those of the past. Sustainable development, environmental concern, trade justice, migration and world population issues are intimately bound up with developing nations and have significant economic consequences for the rest of the world. Africa is the eloquent symbol of the crossroads at a moment of history.

Hon. Members are aware that it is not a question of whether Africa will arise from its difficulties alone or by way of outside assistance. It is not going to be that sort of world. We all have a vested interest in working with each other to overcome common problems. There will be two crucial aspects to that. One will concern the way in which the outside world works in harmony with African nations. Concordats, such as NEPAD or millennium development goals, will be the key to that. Of growing importance, however, will be the changing nature of the demands of developing countries themselves and their growing confidence in advocating them.

The recent collapse of the World Trade Organisation talks in Cancun was a graphic example of that. I have my doubts about whether the collapse is the good news it was celebrated to be at the time. The euphoria that greets such a result is often assessed differently in the cold light of the following weeks, but the new-found expression of confidence among developing nations must be recognised and applauded. If such a demonstration of the change in the world order is to be of lasting significance, however, those countries that are assuming a greater and more powerful role on the world stage must have the political infrastructure to sustain such a position. That brings me back to South Africa.

Over the years, my hon. Friends and I have witnessed the remarkable transfer of power in that country from the apartheid regime to the new democratic Government. The decade or so since the effective transfer of power provides a reasonable time scale for looking at markers of real development to signal the progress of an emerging democracy. I recognise the Government's extraordinary achievements, but I post a warning that I trust in years to come will prove unnecessary.

Our recent visit to South Africa included an opportunity to meet Members of Parliament from the African National Congress and a variety of Opposition parties. We spent time with Magosuthu Buthelezi, the Minister for Home Affairs and the leader of the Inkatha Freedom party. We visited the Mpumalanga provincial Parliament and spoke to a wide range of friends and contacts. It is impossible to avoid or ignore the uneasy sense that an already immensely powerful Government are becoming increasingly strong in South Africa. The ANC dominates the national Parliament and is in full control of the vast majority of provincial legislatures as well. In light of the ANC's background, it is entirely understandable that it is puzzled and uncertain of opposition and believes that its future security, and that of its country, is bound up with it being in even greater control than it is now. A BBC press release from the summer entitled "ANC tightens grip on power" describes the process of Members crossing the Floor of the House under a law that allowed them to do that within a time scale without losing their seats. It enabled the ANC to gain new members and alter the balance of power in different legislatures.

There are other concerns. Helen Suzman, a campaigner for freedom from apartheid and known as a beacon of liberalism and freedom to virtually everyone in the Chamber for a significant part of our political lives, recently wrote of her sadness at feeling marginalized in the new South Africa. The part played by her and others in history is not quite given the prominence it was in 1994 and should continue to receive.

In September 2003, the Helen Suzman Foundation published an article by a reporter, Sarah Crowe, entitled "Local Media Freedom is Not Set in Stone", which was introduced with the statement: Vigorous white journalists are liable to be accused of racism, while their black confreres risk condemnation for lack of patriotism. The article said: Never before has the South African media been so free, so diverse and so large. But ironically there are now probably more self-imposed limitations on the media than in the past. Today the media finds itself choking on the sweet air of new freedoms, trapped in a racial purgatory characterised by patriotic praise singing or thinly-veiled bigotry. There is a great need now for a more astute and nuanced response from editors and journalists. Under the administration of Thabo Mbeki, it is a truism that if you're black and critical of the government you're either unpatriotic or, worse still, dominated by or thinking like whites, while if you're white and critical you're a racist.

Helen Jackson

The hon. Gentleman is giving an interesting exposition of the potential failings of the ANC in government in South Africa, but does he recognise the great leadership that the ANC has shown in insisting that there is good representation of women at every level of power from the smallest local council to the Parliament, the Cabinet and Ministries? It is the only party in Africa that I know of that has set out to achieve the goal of 33 per cent. representation for women, and it has managed in 10 years to achieve something that we still struggle with in our democracy.

Alistair Burt

The hon. Lady is entitled to make her point, and it is a perfectly fair one. However, I am not making a point about individual components of the ANC—far from it—and I am not denying the successes of the past 10 years or the years before that. If she will stay with me for a moment, I will get to my point.

The article that I was quoting goes on to say: Although these divisions may have been latent in the society anyway, they have become manifest under Mbeki. The discord is—to quote Anton Harber, professor at the Caxton School of Journalism at the University of the Witwatersrand—`terribly destructive' for the media. The article does not stand alone, and other quotes can be found that express similar concerns.

I raise this issue because I believe profoundly that democracy constitutes a set of absolute propositions. There can be no allowance, simply because a regime has emerged from an authoritarian past, for breaches of democratic principle. Unless the same rigour is applied worldwide, abuses of democracy and, in consequence, human rights abuses inevitably follow. South Africa must become not only Africa's leader but, perhaps, the dominant force among developing nations throughout the world. The good will associated with its transition is almost unique in our political experience, and that is why our expectations are so huge and important. That is why we care so much about the nation's governance and its pluralism.

I commend the work of the Department for International Development and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in supporting the projects designed to encourage democratic growth in South Africa. Colleagues may be interested to learn that the foundation has supported 62 projects since 1998. All the major political parties have been involved, and colleagues may like to know that the Liberal Democrats ran a regional workshop for skills in local election campaigning. I suspect that most of us who have been involved in by-elections could probably tell people more about the Liberal Democrats than they themselves could do.

Labour colleagues ran a very good seminar entitled "Follow-up fund-raising training", so look out grand prix entrepreneurs and people in the media, because you are going to be tapped. With some trepidation, I tell the House that the Conservative party ran a seminar on message development urgency, about which we might also claim to know quite a bit.

To conclude with a serious point, it is important that those who want a pluralist society to continue in South Africa take the most careful note of current developments to forestall the sort of problem that we have seen on its northern border. I visited Harare in 1986, when there were worries that Zimbabwe might be moving towards greater intolerance and that the removal of guaranteed seats for whites in the Zimbabwean Parliament was the top of a slippery slope. There was also some anxiety about press freedom. However, a blind eye was effectively turned—there were surely all sorts of good reasons for Robert Mugabe's regime taking a little longer to accept the pluralist traditions that were common in other parts of the world. The consequence of the blind eye is the hunger, terrorism and destruction of human rights for many people in Zimbabwe and the cruel loss of the dignity that, ironically, Robert Mugabe had symbolised when he freed his people.

We are a long way from that in South Africa, but the warnings of South Africans who fear the return of a chill wind of intolerance should be heard and respected. The international community was not a critical friend to Zimbabwe at a time when it most needed it. We must therefore—this point is addressed directly to the hon. Lady—be a critical friend to South Africa now because so much is expected of it. Its people, resources and aspirations are second to none. I described the love that my hon. Friends and I have for South Africa because of our visits there, our friendships and relationships. If it can become a beacon for pluralist democracy in southern African and an unimpeachable model for others, if it is prepared to work with other African nations to solve local tyrannies, the prospects for African development proceeding in a manner that will benefit not only its own people but the world must be strong, and the world itself will be stronger as a result.

6.6 pm

Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

May I thank the Secretary of State for remaining in the Chamber throughout our debate? Not many people do so—it sends a welcome message to Back Benchers, for which I express appreciation. I hope that such behaviour will help me in future as well.

In our debate on African development strategies, I wish to raise a single issue—the fact that the discovery of natural resources in Africa has led not to wealth but to poverty for its people. Although there have been enormous riches for a corrupt elite and riches for western companies, that has been at the expense of many people in southern Africa, which is now the poorest part of the world. The amount that we have given in aid is minute compared with the capital taken from Africa by Africans. The Abacha family alone took literally billions out of Nigeria's oil fields.

I shall focus on oil, but what I shall say applies equally to diamonds, gold and timber. An initiative to tackle the theft of oil wealth could be conducted that would not require money but simply political commitment by the wealthy of the world, including our own country. Other Members have referred to the fact that we are hearing more and more about the robbery of the Congo's riches by the powerful in surrounding countries, with funds then transferred to western companies. The United Nations is about to consider a report on the plundering of resources such as minerals in the Congo, and 18 international companies are to be named which, I hope, will alert us to the consequences of western companies feeding off conflict in developing countries.

Ms Oona King

Will the Minister give an undertaking that the British Government's response to that report, which is out but not yet fully available, will be made public?

Tony Worthington

That is an interesting intervention. I hope that I can manipulate the Minister to act as my ventriloquist's dummy and give my hon. Friend the right answer.

Countries such as Nigeria discovered oil, and then made a dire descent into abject poverty. Angola discovered oil, and used it to fund one side in a horrible war, while the other side used diamonds. It should be central to our development strategy in Africa that we stop this gross robbery by corrupt Africans and their partners in crime—some of the big oil companies whose business practices aid and abet the robbers.

We can go a long way towards solving the problem if African countries and western oil companies simply publish their accounts as they are obliged to do in this country, America and France. If they simply said what they paid to the Governments of those countries and those Governments said what they received, the emerging democracies and politicians in those countries would have something to bite into. African Governments say many words about that issue, but with few exceptions—diamonds in Botswana have been mentioned—there is no transparency. The facts about oil and other resources are regarded as state secrets, and the term "state" means the politician who is control. In a recent report, the Catholic bishops of central Africa said: Central Africa wallows in Misery despite the growing discoveries of oil". They also denounced the complicity of the oil companies and ruling politicians.

Nothing would do more to improve governance in such countries than transparency of accounting. The fact is that politics in some African countries is a struggle to get into the food chain and feed at the trough. People go into politics to get rich by gaining access to a country's resources. A couple of years ago, a campaign was established—it was headed by George Soros and a wonderful London-based campaigning NGO, Global Witness, as well as 60 other NGOs from around the world—to end the cloak for corruption that is a feature of the failure to publish accounts. To their great credit, our own oil companies, Shell and BP, said that they would take up the approach. Of course, they needed the security of knowing that their rivals will play the game as well, or they would have been cut out of those markets. Indeed, I think that BP was threatened with that possibility in Angola.

That campaign is called "Publish What You Pay". The Prime Minister, to his enormous credit, threw his weight behind it and launched a forum at Lancaster house in June. Among his duties, the present Secretary of State has inherited the responsibility of chairing the group that takes forward the policy—the extractive industries transparency initiative is hardly a catchy title, but I think that we know what it means. The proposal was taken to the G8 and there was general approval, but it then ran into the buffers of the American oil giants, which said that any agreement should be voluntary. That is nonsense; if it is voluntary, it is a dead duck. The chairman of Exxon's international operations stressed the importance of contractual obligations coming before disclosure. Chevron said that the process must remain voluntary and that disclosure would put it at a disadvantage to Government-owned corporations. The matter is dead simple: if the same rules apply to everybody and the World Bank and regulators in developed countries lay down rules of transparency, the approach can work. It is the crook who wants secrecy; the honest company has nothing to fear if everybody else has to be transparent.

President Bush has said some promising words about helping Africa, but they will be hypocrisy if he allows American oil companies to act in partnership with political criminals to strip Africa of its natural resources. These companies are hugely powerful. Exxon has recently been negotiating with Chad, and its 2001 revenues were $191 billion, while Chad's gross domestic product was $1.4 billion. That is the difference in power.

At one time, America had little interest in Africa, but increasing amounts of oil are coming from it. We are in a new version of the great game in which the powers are struggling for resources. The Americans are trying to get out of reliance on Saudi Arabia and West Africa is in the middle of an oil boom. I was astonished by the figures: 7 billion of an estimated 8 billion barrels of oil discovered last year were found off the west coast of Africa. West Africa now sends almost as much oil to the United States as Saudi Arabia. With that change comes military interest as well, but I do not have time to speak about that.

Nigeria is the worst case of a country discovering oil and experiencing misery. Following the discovery of huge oilfields, per capita income fell by 23 per cent. since 1975. I watched with interest when democracy took over in Nigeria, but I have seen no further signs of transparency. When we went to Nigeria, it was hard for politicians to find out what was going on. In Angola, more than $1 billion—about a third of state income—disappears each year and cannot be accounted for.

My favourite example of the relationship between the United States, its oil companies and African states is that of Equatorial Guinea. It is a tiny country of about 500,000 people—about a third the size of Northern Ireland—but it sits on oil. In Washington, almost within sight of the White House, there is a place called Dupont circle. There one will find Riggs bank, in which, it is alleged by the Los Angeles Times and corroborated by Global Witness, there is a bank account holding between $300 million and $500 million in the name of the President of Equatorial Guinea. That amount of money can only have come from Equatorial Guinea's oil resources, because oil represents 90 per cent. of its income. The dominant oil companies are Exxon and Chevron—American companies that reveal no information about their payments to that country. If they did, we would know about the route that the money followed. The President of Equatorial Guinea is therefore accused of huge money laundering in President Bush's neighbourhood bank, but there has been no sign of any attempt to find out whether that is the origin of the money.

The magazine, New Internationalist, ranks the world's regimes from one star to five star. Five star is "excellent"; one star is "appalling". It gives Equatorial Guinea one star, saying that all power rests in the presidency and that the president has no political vision beyond self-enrichment, self-aggrandisement and ruthless repression. No one in this place would achieve that record. We used to treat Equatorial Guinea as a pariah state. It is said that around one third of its people have fled. When it had elections last year, the leaders of the three opposition parties were locked up in jail and President Obiang got 99 per cent. of the vote. That gives us a clue that something is wrong. Even the US Department of Energy reports strong evidence of Government misappropriation of the oil funds that represent 90 per cent. of the country's income.

This is just a matter of willpower. It is not about finding resources, but about the G8, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund saying, "When you are a powerful western country, you cannot have relationships with the developing world that are not transparent." If the payments that were made by the big oil companies—whether ours, American or French—were made transparent, we could say where the money was going. I remember going to Nigeria with the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). By that time, we should have been able to ask, "As there is now democracy, where are the schools and the health centres?"—but did we find anything? No. It is crucial that the resources of a country go to the people of that country: that is a simple principle on which people could unite. I know that the Minister will not have time to reply to these points in detail, but I hope that we can have a letter or a written statement on what progress is being made on the publish-what-you-pay initiative, because I think that we should hang on to this issue, and push it and push it.

6.20 pm
Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

This has been an excellent debate; it has been very measured and progressive. The only person with whom I would take issue is the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who seemed to flatter me by saying that those who cross the Floor of the House carry great power and influence when they do so. I cannot, however, take credit for the fact that the Liberal Democrats' ratings have gone up by some 10 points since I joined them.

Africa is a vast continent, with a rich tapestry of sights and sounds in many cultures and societies. I want to focus my remarks on Malawi, a small country of some 10.7 million people. It is a Commonwealth member and a democracy. It is not perfect, but no democracy is. It is a wonderful country in terms of its geography and landscape, and it contains the fantastic Lake Malawi, the third largest lake in Africa. It also has the potential to be able to feed its own population, owing to the rich resources of natural water.

The sad reality, however, is that Malawi comes 163rd out of 173 countries around the globe in terms of poverty. Two thirds of its people live below the commonly defined poverty line. Life expectancy is a mere 38 years, and the average income is some US$200 a year. Only about half the people have access to clean water, and about one in 10 youngsters under the age of five die because of the lack of clean water, medicines, and food in their bellies. Twenty-five per cent. of Malawi's children are malnourished, and 40 per cent. are illiterate.

We have seen some improvements in Malawi over the past 18 months, as the effects of the famine that took thousands of lives have at last begun to be curtailed. I would be the first to congratulate the Government on giving an extra £37 million to Malawi in the past two years, which has helped to alleviate much of the poverty there. I give great credit to the Secretary of State and the Minister for their dedication and commitment to Malawi and to Africa generally—credit where credit is due.

I hope, however, that the Minister will be able to address my concern that the annual report of the Department for International Development showed that, over and above the emergency funding, the basic balance for the aid budget to Malawi fell from £56 million to £42 million between 2001 and 2002. The estimated outturn for 2003 is back up to £52 million, but it is anticipated that for the next three years it will hold at only about £47 million. A country in such desperate straits needs a greater commitment and more help, and I hope that the Minister will genuinely take on board my views and look long and hard at that investment for aid.

When President Mbeki gave an address on the New Partnership for Africa's Development on 31 October 2001, he set out the vision for Africa, saying: The work has started to give meaning to a bold vision whose realisation will for us, at last, turn into reality the concept that all people are born equal and that all of us inhabit a global village. We need to ensure that we help him with that vision for Africa, but it is a long way off. I heard the far-sighted speech of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman), but I think that it is about 100 years too soon to start talking about collecting taxes. Each day, some 20,000 children in Africa die because of the lack of clean water and basic medicines. We should give credit, as there are many Africans who contribute not through taxes, but with their bare hands. They build maternity units, schools and hospitals. They own the village right down to every brick that is laid.

I visited Malawi in August 2002 and I saw for myself the energy, ingenuity and adaptability of those people—a fantastic people and, I have to say, a happy people who were laughing in the face of death, as famine was sweeping across their country. Hand in hand with the spectre of HIV/AIDS, which was taking some 250 people a day, although I think the number has increased, the famine formed a recipe for disaster. While the Government have done so much, a lot of my frustration, if not my anger, is focused on the European Union and, in particular, on America.

America will spend $800 billion each year on arming itself and going to war, but it barely lifts a finger in many respects in terms of long-term aid. I will at least enter a caveat by congratulating President George Bush—credit where it is due—on committing some $9 billion for the next five years to combating AIDS. That is more than any other US President has committed, but it is the tip of the iceberg.

I record my thanks to World Vision, the charity that helped to put together the tour round Malawi just over a year ago. I want to mention in particular John Mandere, Angela Falinya and Baldwin Chiyamwaka, who helped me to visit the regions of Mzuzu and Kayezi. There is so much doom and gloom, but I saw for myself the success stories, including farmers who were given a little help with seedlings and who could then double their crops on their farms so that they would not just be feeding themselves and their families, but expanding the farms, taking on labourers and selling their crops.

I saw for myself women building maternity units. Previously, women had to give birth in a one-room mud hut—their front room—with nothing more than a rubber sheet and no pain killers. I saw for myself bore holes that were drilled down 30 m in just two or three days and which gave water to 2,000 people in one village. I saw for myself proud people who had built a pharmacy and who were distributing basic drugs for the first time ever.

I saw for myself the yield improvements for many crops, which were achieved simply by taking together goat dung, straw and a little water, digging a hole and creating enough fertilizer for a field of crops to make a huge difference in terms of how many mouths could be fed.

Towards the end of that week's trip, I went to Kanyopola in the charity's four-wheel drive jeep. That remote little village is some 40 or 50 km from Lilongwe, the capital. As we approached, about four or five children were playing outside the huts. When we disembarked, 150 people came out of the bush and sat in front of us. They were happy, because they had only ever seen jeeps arrive with food. Naturally, they assumed that we were turning up with sacks of maize. We were not.

I had 150 people in front of me. I gave a speech, but I could offer them nothing except warm words. They were so desperate that they had sold their farming tools, their pots and pans and the clothes off their backs. They had nothing because of the drought and the famine. They were simply sitting and waiting to die, yet they were incredibly proud—I have to say that in honour of them.

I turned to John, one of the charity workers, and said, "Why on earth are they here? In the west, we would be marching off to the towns and cities to find jobs and attempt to feed our families. They are just sitting here waiting to die." He said, "Yes, but their heritage and culture are here, Paul. If they go to Lilongwe, they will probably be raped or mugged. They will almost certainly die. They sit here in the hope that they can hold their families together and that food will eventually arrive."

That village touched my heart. Babies were sitting on my knees, and I was surrounded by 40 or 50 more babies and toddlers. They were covered in scabies, they had pot bellies the size of footballs, and the cacophony as they all cried and screamed will stay with me for the rest of my life. It was simply unbearable.

When I started to film the children with my camcorder, I turned round the LCD screen so that they could see themselves. The older ones, aged about 12, were smiling and waving as best they could because they could see themselves, but the younger ones were not. When I asked the charity worker why that was—most people wave at a camera—he said, "They do not recognise themselves, Paul. There has been no water for most of their lives, and it is in water that they see their reflections. They have no idea whose pictures these are." It was desperately, desperately sad, and that is why we must do so much more than we have so far.

I went to see the British high commissioner. When I asked him where the food airlift was, he said "We are trying to build a railway line across Mozambique". I pay tribute to the DFID officials in Malawi, who have done a fantastic job, but it is frustrating to look in vain for the international collective willpower needed to break the cycle of poverty, deprivation and death that stalks the lands of Africa. We have the means, in the 21st century, and we could do it. We just need the political will. I say that particularly to the richest-ever nation on earth, America, but I also say it to the European Union. So much more has to be done.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett), I should like the Government to produce a timetable for the dedication of the magic figure of 0.7 per cent. of gross national income to aid. That is not an end in itself, but it demonstrates a long-term commitment; and a large proportion of that aid must go to Africa.

I welcome the International Monetary Fund's announcement in the past week of an extra $6.6 million for Malawi, but the fact that only last year Malawi had to repay debt of $89 million shows how pitiful progress has been in what could be a prosperous nation. It is rich in natural minerals, and it has the potential to deliver important agricultural products. It is an energetic people, it is a democracy, and it deserves more support.

I do not want us to have debates like this year after year, in which we must again acknowledge the death and destruction that afflict the great continent of Africa. We could make a difference now. I hope that in the next few years we begin to see a massive turnaround, and a hugely increased sense of urgency in respect of the need to tackle Africa's problems once and for all.

6.33 pm
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

I welcome the opportunity to speak, however briefly. I shall make two points that build on what was said by two earlier speakers. My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) spoke of the importance of oil in west Africa, and the increasing volumes of oil coming from it. I want to draw attention to the dangers that that will bring, in terms of geopolitical stability.

Let me refer to a country that has not been mentioned so far today—an increasingly oil-rich country. I do not think that Cameroon has ever been the subject of debate, or has even been referred to during a debate, in my time in Parliament—or, I suspect, before that. The construction of the Chad-Cameroon pipeline and Cameroon's successful offshore oil claim against its much larger neighbour, Nigeria, focuses our attention on the pressures building up in west Africa. I want to bring to the House's and the Secretary of State's notice the dangers in that part of the world. In recent months, we have witnessed the events in Liberia, in Cote d'Ivoire and further round the coast in Sierra Leone; moreover, we know of the tensions in Nigeria. It is entirely conceivable that Cameroon will be the next flashpoint in that part of west central Africa, because of the pressure on natural resources—the pressure to extract oil—and on Cameroon's almost unique rain forest, which is one of the most precious virgin rain forests in the world.

We must also consider the importance of good governance in any development strategy, an issue which the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) raised. I want to draw the Secretary of State's attention to a report published by FIDH—the Paris-based, international human rights non-governmental organization—on torture in Cameroon and the absence of basic standards of criminal justice. The combination of the pressure to extract natural resources, the lack of acceptable standards of governance, the oppression of minorities, and the systematic use of torture against ordinary criminals and political prisoners, is building up into a flashpoint that we ignore at our peril. In recent years, the international community has found it easy to ignore the warning signs in small countries in strategically important areas. Today provides an opportunity to look at these warning signs and to ensure that we avoid the mistakes that have been made before.

I draw particular attention to the FIDH report on torture that was published just a few weeks ago. I accept that this issue is not primarily the responsibility of the Secretary of State for International Development, but I ask him to consider it and to discuss it with the Foreign Secretary. My understanding is that the United Nations committee against torture will convene in November, so here is an opportunity for the UK to play an important role in improving human rights in Cameroon by making representations about the complete lack of acceptability of torture as an instrument of the criminal justice system. It is also an opportunity to bring to the international stage the wider conflicts in Cameroon between the many different ethnic minorities, which speak many different languages, between the Muslims and the Christians, between those in the desert north and those in the tropical south, and in particular between the English-speaking minority and the French-speaking majority. Of course, Cameroon is one of very few countries with a French-speaking majority that happens to be a member of the Commonwealth, so the United Kingdom has—or ought to have—a particular interest in it. There is a sense among its English-speaking minority that the United Kingdom has not taken on that responsibility, or shown the level of care and interest that it might reasonably have been expected to show over a number of years.

I want to tie together the relentless exploitation of natural resources and the dangers of the absence of good governance in Cameroon, and to draw to the House's attention the fact that Cameroon may prove, if not a new Côte d'Ivoire or Sierra Leone, a potential flashpoint that could destabilise the wider region. I should be very grateful if the Secretary of State would discuss Cameroon and look at his Department's role, alongside that of the Foreign Secretary, in strengthening human rights in that country.

6.39 pm
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

One of the difficulties of speaking at the end of a debate is that we have already heard many sensible speeches across the Chamber. I shall try not to repeat points that have already been made. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) rightly said, this is not a partisan issue, and we have heard from members of the International Development Committee on both sides of the Chamber.

I will briefly repeat what the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) said about welcoming the fact that the Secretary of State has been in his place throughout the debate, which encourages us all. I also want to welcome the Secretary of State on the occasion of his first debate in the House as Secretary of State for International Development. I found what he had to say upbeat, optimistic and uplifting. I did not agree with everything that he said, but he would not expect that. It was good to hear his optimism about the Sudan peace process and I hope that he is right. I do not, however, really share his optimism about the Congo.

I visited the Congo two years ago with the all-party group, including the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King). President Kabila told us then that he expected elections to take place within two years, but those two years have come and gone. I read Conrad's "Heart of Darkness", which many people have read, while I was there. It was written a century ago. I was greatly saddened to read Saturday's The Daily Telegraph, which described cannibalism in Ituri province. I recalled Kurtz's dying words, "The horror, the horror." We are now living in the 21st century, yet British and other journalists are living in an area where people are indulging in cannibalism.

I base my speech largely on the three issues mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman)—AIDS, conflict and corruption. They are connected. Indeed, as the Secretary of State said, they are all, albeit not directly, development issues.

We heard a great deal about AIDS from the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley), and I agreed with almost everything that he said. The first time that I referred, as did the Secretary of State, to the Black Death, I was interrupted by Liberal Members for being racist. However, it is like the Black Death. In leaving schools without teachers and hospitals without doctors, it is exactly the same as the scourge that swept across Europe in medieval times. It is destroying all the development progress made over the past 40 years. As the hon. Member for City of York rightly pointed out, it is vastly reducing life expectancy. The worst prediction that I have heard from UNAIDS is that life expectancy in Botswana will be 27—younger than any hon. Member who has taken part in this debate—by 2010. I hope that the prediction is wrong.

Antiretroviral treatment is terribly important, but the lesson to be learned from Uganda is that educational and behavioural change is the key to improving the situation. Having visited Botswana last year, I want to say that the way in which the Botswana Government behaved is magnificent. It is probably the richest country in southern Africa—certainly the richest per capita—and it is the best-governed country in southern Africa. As a result, it is giving antiretroviral treatment to anyone who wants and needs it.

On the subject of conflict, reflecting on the heart of Africa says it all. As I said, I do not share all the Secretary of State's optimism. Many of the problems are interlinked. The Sudanese believe that the Ugandan Government have supported the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, so they have supported the Lord's Resistance Army, which is fighting in northern Uganda. It is abducting children—a ghastly business. The Ugandans, of course, invaded Rwanda to help Kagami to put out the last regime. The Rwandans and Ugandans then invaded the Congo to get rid of the Mobutu regime: they are still in the Congo, looting natural resources. The Zimbabweans are doing the same—making a fortune out of the natural resources of the Congo. It is all deeply interlinked, and deeply depressing.

I shall not go through others on the list: one could go on through Liberia, Sierra Leone, Eritrea and Ethiopia. I have to say that money spent on arms and destruction should be spent on construction and development. What horrified me most on a visit to Angola in May this year was hearing from UNITA what the conflict in Angola was for. That conflict has gone on for about 26 years and millions of people have been killed in terrible destruction. What was it for? The people in UNITA said that they did not have any real ideological differences with the MPLA. They said that it was really about personalities and who had their noses in the trough. I find that deeply worrying and very cynical.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Robathan

The hon. Gentleman has only just taken his place and I have very little time, so I will not give way to him, even though we went to Angola together.

Talking of Angola leads me to the subject of corruption, or what is euphemistically termed good governance. In Angola, former Marxists who seized power in 1975 are now making fortunes from the oil revenues from their country. Some $1 billion is unaccounted for, which is some 20 to 25 per cent. of the total oil revenue. Allegedly, it is going into the president's private bank account. Who knows? When BP tried to be transparent about the money it was paying, it was threatened with being kicked out of the country. It is a beautiful, fertile and rich country that is not overpopulated, but people are starving.

We heard much about Nigeria from the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie. Nearly a quarter of black Africans live in Nigeria and two thirds of them live on less than $1 a day, in a country that has oil revenues of $18 billion. Where is it all going? We must all ask that question. A few years ago, a finance Minister in Kenya said to me—I remember his exact words— Don't give us more money: ask us what we have done with the money you already gave us. We should all bear that in mind.

Zimbabwe has an AIDS infection rate of between 25 and 33 per cent. Who knows? People are murdered daily by the regime and the corruption is self-evident. However, I remind the Secretary of State that last year our aid to Zimbabwe doubled to £29 million. As I said in my intervention in his speech, humanitarian aid is all very well, but it is being used as a tool of repression by the Zimbabwean Government. I urge him, as he kindly said he would in his reply to my intervention, to ensure that we monitor exactly what happens to our aid.

My final points concern the great hope for the future—NEPAD—of which we have heard much today. The Prime Minister speaks warmly of NEPAD, but President Obasanjo of Nigeria, a former military dictator, is one of its leaders. Nigeria is the second most corrupt country in the world, according to Transparency International. What hope does that give us? We are told that NEPAD will include peer review. Well, the International Parliamentary Union was going to meet here at Westminster in March, but the Government—to their credit—refused to give visas to Zimbabweans, so African countries have pressured the IPU to move the meeting outside the United Kingdom. That is deeply depressing.

We heard about South Africa from my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt). It refuses to press Mugabe to resign or to reverse his policies. However, NEPAD relies on peer review and leadership by those people. How much confidence does that give us? Is NEPAD wishful thinking, as my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden suggested? Do African leaders see no evil and hear no evil? I hope that the Minister addresses that issue when he winds up.

The Prime Minister called NEPAD a real signal of hope for the future."—[Official Report, 1 July 2002; Vol. 388, c. 23.] He applauded the presence of South Africa and Nigeria, but what evidence have we seen since of genuine desire to reform? Has Mbeki used his influence in Zimbabwe? Has Obasanjo prosecuted General Babangida, the former military dictator who lives off his looted wealth in great ostentation just outside Abuja? Are they the reforming African partners to whom the Prime Minister referred? I do not doubt the good faith of the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State, the Minister or the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), of whom I saw a great deal. However, we must ask whether British money is being well spent. Are our development policies working in Africa? Are the taxes of Mrs. Jones in Blaby and Mrs. Smith in Leeds being spent well and to good effect? I have seen much of the Department's work and my answer would be, "Yes, to a certain extent, and no, to a certain extent."

Tony Worthington

Just like a Liberal.

Mr. Robathan

Yes, I am sitting on the fence like a Liberal. Excellent people work for the Department and they work with excellent people in NGOs, both national and international. However, African leaders and people must address the development challenges, and the crises that have been described, through NEPAD or by other means. We can help, and we have a moral imperative to do so. We are helping, but I hope that the debate will stimulate the Government to do even more.

6.50 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas)

Like the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), I too believe that this has been an excellent debate. It will be difficult to do justice to the powerful contributions made by my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin), for Putney (Mr. Colman), for City of York (Hugh Bayley), for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) and for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor). Thoughtful and interesting contributions were also made by the hon. Members for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett), for Banbury (Tony Baldry)—the Chairman of the Select Committee—for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), and for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden). I recognise that, as a result, I shall have to write to a number of hon. Members in order to respond to the specific questions that they raised.

As just about all hon. Members noted, Africa faces a huge challenge in meeting the millennium development goals. That challenge is not insurmountable, but it requires that African nations commit themselves to reform, through NEPAD and the other processes of the African Union. At the same time, the developed world must alter fundamentally its relationship with Africa, and not just in terms of levels of aid. It must also tackle the range of policy constraints affecting Africa's development.

There are major challenges to be faced. They include preventing conflict and achieving more effective post-conflict reconstruction, reversing the spread of HIV/ AIDS—on which a number of hon. Members concentrated in their contributions—responding to globalisation, and achieving faster economic growth. We must also continue to improve the quality and effectiveness of governance.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

My hon. Friend has touched on the issue of conflict and the need for western countries and aid donors to change their ways. Is he aware of the letter from Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the general secretary of ECOWAS, which was sent to his Department? In the letter, he writes: Where guns dominate, development suffers. He urges the Government to go further with extraterritorial controls than is currently proposed.

Mr. Thomas

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall come to issues of conflict and the points that he raises in a moment.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out in his opening speech, there are some powerful examples of good progress in Africa, but there are also too many example of countries where much more needs to be done. The lead has to be taken by African countries, but with the support of the international community.

In 2000, there were 13 major conflicts in progress in Africa. That number has come down to just two at present. That does not mean that violent conflict is at an end, and many of the settlements in place are very fragile, but there is a real chance to build on the political processes generated by peace settlements in countries such as Angola, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Key partner countries such as Nigeria and Uganda still face significant internal problems that result in violence and death. It is clear, therefore, that we have more to do.

In particular, we must take advantage of the new options presented by the African Union's new peace and security architecture. The union is now leading the first African mission in Burundi, with Ethiopian, South African and Mozambican troops taking part. Already, the union has also tabled plans for an African standby peacekeeping force.

Clearly, it will be important that the member countries of the African Union ratify the peace and Security Council, so that the union has a clear mandate to build African capacity in order to prevent conflict in the region. We are spending a total of £110 million specifically on conflict management and prevention activities. Much of that amount is spent on UN operations, such as those that took place in the Congo. However, we are also working on security sector reform, reducing the prevalence of small arms and carrying out peace-building work. We shall consider the letter mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) in that light.

My hon. Friend the Member for City of York, among other hon. Members, highlighted the horror of the HIV/ AIDS epidemic. In seven countries, all in southern Africa, 20 per cent. or more of the population has HIV/ AIDS. The hon. Member for Blaby mentioned Botswana, where 38 per cent. of the population has the disease. About 29 million Africans are living with HIV/AIDS.

The human impact of the disease is most powerfully illustrated by the fact that 11 million children under the age of 15 have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. In that context, the contribution of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham was especially interesting. The epidemic certainly affects both rich and poor, but the poor are much more vulnerable to infection and much less able to cope with the disease.

We are supporting African Governments so that they can deliver their commitments to improve health care and tackle HIV/AIDS. Our planned bilateral spending on HIV/AIDS programmes has risen from £38 million in 1997 to more than £270 million in this financial year, putting us second in international spending on the disease.

The epidemic has fuelled the spread of tuberculosis and exacerbated the impact of malaria. As well as supporting country-level initiatives to control tuberculosis and malaria, we are working through international efforts such as "Stop TB" and "Roll Back Malaria" and, of course, the global fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria. However, if we are to tackle all three diseases, as well as a whole range of other health issues, such as ensuring that the poor have greater accessibility to drugs, it is vital that health systems more generally be strengthened in Africa. Since 1997, we have committed more than £1.5 billion to help countries build and strengthen their health care systems.

The hon. Members for Edinburgh, West and for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) highlighted the fact that Cancun was a huge disappointment—as did the Chairman of the Select Committee. As I indicated in Westminster Hall last week, we are committed to trying to get the Doha development round back on track, to help African countries to enjoy the huge benefits that are on offer if we can secure fair trade rules.

The hon. Member for Banbury gave an especially powerful example of the current unfairness of world trade rules—the level of cotton subsidies. World prices are depressed by at least 20 per cent., which costs west African cotton producers an estimated $250 million to $300 million each year. We are helping to support those west African nations in their campaign at the World Trade Organisation by giving about €50,000, with other nations. That will help their advocates to make their case; it is a small example from the £160 million that we have given to build trade capacity across the developing world. We are arguing in Europe for further, deeper reforms of EU cotton subsidies both to give a signal about Europe's commitment to Africa and to get the Doha development round back on track.

Those are examples of real progress towards democracy and good governance in Africa, but as all hon. Members recognise, major challenges remain. When there are difficulties in particular countries, that is not the time for the international community to walk away; it is time to engage even more closely to support African-led solutions. That is why the Government are committed to ensuring that £1 billion of our aid goes to Africa by 2006. That is why we are working to promote the international finance facility to double world aid levels.

Sadly, that is in stark contrast to the record and current agenda on the Conservative Front Bench. The Conservatives halved the percentage of gross national product allocated to overseas aid during their 18 years in power.

Mr. Robathan

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Thomas

I am afraid that I cannot give way at this point.

Who could not fail to worry about the UK's response to Africa's challenge from a probable hard-right Conservative leader who is committed to public expenditure cuts of 20 per cent. across Government? Where would that leave this country's commitment to tackle the HIV/AIDS epidemic? How would that help our Government's commitment to ensuring that every child has a primary school place? How would that help us in building the capacity of African countries to resist terrorist attacks?

On international development, I am afraid that there will be clear red water between our two parties at the next election. However, while we are in government we shall remain committed to ensuring that the millennium goals will be implemented.

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put, pursuant to Order [30 October].

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