HC Deb 04 March 2004 vol 418 cc1046-8
11. .Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab)

What assessment he has made of the main obstacles to delivering the targets set in the millennium development goals. [158477]

12. Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth) (Lab)

If he will make a statement on progress to achieve the millennium development goals. [158478]

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown)

Since 1997 we have raised overseas development aid from 0.26 per cent. of gross national income to a projected 0.4 per cent. To achieve the millennium development goals, including 80 million more school places, will not only take economic reform, achieving value for money in aid and a settlement of the world trade talks, but cannot be achieved without those increases in overseas development aid.

Mr. Challen

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer, which shows that Britain is leading the way in the attempt to meet those goals. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the speech he gave to faith groups and non-governmental organisations on 18 February when, among many other things, he said: Too often we have set goals, reset them, and recalibrated them again so that all we end up doing is mitigating the extent to which we have failed. That is an honest appraisal of why the goals are proving so difficult to meet. At current rates of development, my right hon. Friend has predicted that some of them will take over a century to achieve. Is he content that there is sufficient political will on the international stage to meet the goals? Perhaps if we described the millennium development goals as a war on poverty, we might have a greater chance of success.

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend is right. The latest information is that the major millennium goals of getting every child into education, halving poverty and achieving a two-thirds reduction in infant mortality will not, on present trends, be met by 2115, far less by 2015. That is why we need extra resources and why we cannot escape the question of how we can create those resources. It is no use people saying that they support our international finance facility without committing themselves to further overseas aid. I wish that we had a consensus in the House of Commons for further increases in overseas aid, but unfortunately the Conservatives wish to cut the budget.

Mr. Edwards

May I tell my right hon. Friend that there is considerable support in my constituency for the millennium development goals, especially those to combat gender inequality and to promote maternal health? Those concerns will be highlighted tonight when Glenys Kinnock opens the Monmouth women's festival. Given that the UK assumes the presidency of the G7 next year, how will my right hon. Friend persuade the other wealthy countries of the world to support the international finance facility in order to achieve those goals?

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Next year is important because it is the first year in which a millennium development target falls due to be met— namely, the target on reducing inequalities in educational opportunities for girls and women. That target will not be met. It is also the year when we hold the G7 presidency. We believe, given the establishment of the commission on Africa, that our G7 presidency will indeed be a development presidency. We are determined to make progress. One of the ways in which we shall do so is the conference that France and Britain have called for next month in Paris. Sixty countries will attend, and we hope to persuade them of the virtues of the international finance facility, which could, if it worked, double the amount of aid for the next 10 years.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con)

Will the Chancellor be minded to link the millennium development goals with the Government's war on terror, which we support? In particular, will he push in world trade talks for alternative crops in countries such as Afghanistan, in order to wean them away from opium production.

Mr. Brown

I accept what the hon. Lady says about the problems of opium production in Afghanistan, which perhaps represents a bigger share of its economy than the formal economy that is registered there. That is why. at the G7 meeting, we discussed special measures to reduce the economy's dependence on opium. At the same time, it is necessary to persuade people that if they open up to trade and change the system so that they have stability and are open to investment, we are prepared to help them to solve problems, including those of education and health, that they cannot solve financially on their own. That must be part of a new deal between the developed and the developing countries. That new deal will, however, require money, so I hope that the Conservatives will reconsider their decision to freeze, then to cut, the overseas development budget.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park) (LD)

I sincerely congratulate the Chancellor on the progress that he has made on this front. I hope that he would include in that the brilliant contribution made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) when she was Secretary of State for International Development. Having said that, is the Chancellor concerned about the progress that is being made in getting other countries to contribute to the global fund and the finance facility that he recently set up?

Mr. Brown

America has agreed to increase by $5 billion a year the amount of overseas development aid that it provides. That is in its own millennium challenge fund. The European Union has agreed to increase overseas development aid from 0.32 to 0.39 per cent. of European gross domestic product. That is a big change in decision making by many European Governments. We are increasing our overseas development aid from 0.26 to 0.4 per cent. of GDP. Governments around the world have agreed to increase the amount of development aid that they provide.

However, because the cuts in aid over the past 20 years have been so severe, those resources are not sufficient to deal with the problems of education, of health or even of HIV/AIDS. That is why we need a new measure, and why we proposed the international finance facility. I am pleased that that has support from the Liberal party and support in principle from the Conservative party. However, that support depends in practice on our being able to increase the overseas development budget, so I again urge the Conservatives to reconsider their decision to oppose that.

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