HL Deb 15 October 2003 vol 653 cc1018-36

7. 43 p.m.

Lord Lea of Crondall

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made on African development strategies.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a somewhat ambitious topic for dealing with in a dinner debate, but I am encouraged by the number of noble Lords who intend to contribute, albeit for three minutes each. Many of them have long experience of business, public administration or NGO work in Africa, and all will add real value to my main theme. In one respect, that theme is very simple. It is that a huge cultural change is needed for the African economy to grow to its full potential, but we have a golden opportunity to bring it about, with NePAD linked to a positive North/ South agenda.

On 1st November, Ghana, nearly 50 years after its independence, will be the first country to be peer-reviewed under the procedure of the New Partnership for Africa's Development, and although President Nkrumah may be turning in his grave, it is indeed a red-letter day. It puts economics, and above all the totally inadequate levels of investment, into the proper context of the wider problems of peace and war, corruption and the gross misuse of power. It leads to a question for the developed world: how can we go further to incentivise NePAD by budgetary support in rewarding delivery?

A survey was published a week ago by Transparency International showing that many parts of Africa have a culture of deeply embedded corruption—bribing the taxman not to collect taxes, gross diversion of funds, and so on. Let us not beat about the bush: all that adds up to a guarantee that, if matters carry on like this, those economies will remain stagnant for a very long time indeed. To make the change requires a veritable cultural revolution.

So far as we in Europe are concerned—there are at least half a dozen countries with a major colonial legacy, warts and all—we must answer those who say that we should hand over more cash without strings or, as the term has it, without prescriptive policies. The contention is that prescriptive policies often ignore local conditions and have no local ownership, and so on. They and we together have to remove layers and layers of doublespeak from this whole question.

Here in the UK as part of the European Union, we too are at the receiving end, if you want to put it that way, of prescriptive policies in terms of human rights, obviously in terms of budget deficits, and in terms of environment, company mergers and framework conditions for employment. Indeed, it is true of nearly every department in Whitehall. However, African countries know that that is the sort of set-up to which they now aspire. Mr Amaoko, executive director of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, said at a meeting of the All-Party Group on Africa last month that, unless these governance and corruption issues are tackled more aggressively in Africa there is no chance of meeting the minimum development targets—notably on poverty—and the 7 per cent economic growth"— per annum— which that logically entails by 2015".

My one reservation about the otherwise excellent update of the UK action plan is that it tends to pull its punches on that key issue of corruption.

One of the great values of NePAD is that it has focused our minds in a remarkable way on three interrelated levels of mutual accountability. The first level is within each African country, the second between African countries, and the third between Africa and first-world countries. That means that each of those partners has to put something on the table. It can mean benchmarks of performance or frameworks of governance. Of course, it can mean reform of the rules of international trade and investment, both North/South and within Africa.

I also hope that my noble friend will agree that the strengthening interface between NePAD in Johannesburg and the African Union in Addis Ababa augurs well for a new type of AU/EU interface on Africa, albeit with some leading countries in Africa pushing the programme forward as regional champions. Likewise in the EU, I take Britain and France as the exemplars that should drive forward the EU agenda and bring in other countries with long-standing interest in Africa.

In that connection, some confusion seems to have arisen post-Cancun on the semantics of bilateralism versus multilateralism. There are in fact at least two quite different usages for the terms, and that can be quite off-putting in such formulations as, the poorest in Africa will suffer the most from any move from Multilateralism to bilateralism". Of course that is true if it means picking off African countries one by one. It is feared that the big economic powers could stand in the position of a lion negotiating with a mouse. There is an immanent danger of that and we must not allow it to happen.

On the contrary, however, it is certainly not true of AU/EU relations. The idea of regional groupings is one whose time has come. Such types of jointly designed initiatives are essential for Africa if it is to get the investment needed to get anywhere near meeting the development goals. Essential as aid is—I salute the work of all those agencies at every level involved— being totally aid-dependent is certainly no answer. The fact is that there is a dearth of profitable private investment.

A very timely report published this summer by a semi-official US-led group, entitled The Commission on Capital Flows to Africa—A 10-year Strategy, notes that the continent today attracts less than 1 per cent of global capital flows and accounts for less than 1 per cent of world trade. Africa has 10 per cent of the world's population—800 million or so—with only 1 per cent of the world's capital flows. One does not have to be Einstein to see Africa falling further behind the rest of the world on that basis.

The US study calls for the US to complete a free trade agreement with Africa in 10 years; that is, a bilateral arrangement with America, set out in a treaty. America would support investment through cheap credit in sensitive areas such as textiles and apparel, electronics and agribusiness.

Although inadequate capital flows are in part a proxy for economic viability, relying largely on the accumulation of domestic capital, they offer a revealing way of analysing the broader issue. It would be helpful to have a high-level EU study and recommendations for action to complement that carried out by the Americans. The OECD is also sponsoring work in that area.

The straight-up business agenda produces a sharp dilemma for many African countries wanting to attract investment. They see the conditions set by business as a very mixed blessing. However, there is no alternative to some agreed framework, not just dictated by business, but agreed with governments and trade unions. I am pleased to note that the latter have now been invited to join the umbrella consultative committee for NePAD for precisely those reasons.

That is the key to unravelling the "Catch 22" of very little private investment and a poor public sector tax base. Those must go hand in hand if we are to find work for the reserve army of unemployed—or unproductively employed—who make up a rapidly rising number in the urban areas.

On HIV/AIDS, I am not competent to comment, but simply note how poignant it was to hear a development worker say that if 300 US dollars spent on a retroviral drug gave an African expert in Malawi one more year of life, it would be worth it. That gives the dismal science of economics a whole new dimension. Fifty per cent of the staff of the National Audit Office of Zambia have died of AIDS. That too is devastating for the economy. The AIDS pandemic is a deterrent to private investment.

I turn finally to inter-ethnic questions. Those too are very much part of the economic equation. The past 50 years show that if one had to write one golden commandment for Africa, it would be, "Thou shalt not stir up ethnic resentments". Zimbabwe is not the only example that springs to mind. The good news is that some otherwise unpromising countries have succeeded economically, having earlier been written off as hopeless, precisely because they learnt that lesson.

The little island of Mauritius was written off by British experts a generation ago as having no natural resources, but it has achieved remarkable success. That success was not automatic, just because it has wonderful beaches. Through hard work and a cunningly constructed, inclusive electoral system, involving four-member constituencies, everybody has seen the necessity of entrenching peace between the mix of Creoles—people of African descent; Indians, of Hindu, Moslem and Buddhist backgrounds; British and French; Arabs and Chinese and one or two more besides.

As Ministers there told us a year ago,

When African leaders come here to Mauritius, they all ask, 'What is your secret'? We answer, 'That is our secret'". Inter-ethnic conflict is at the heart of many problems. At their worst, as we see from Amin in Uganda onwards, such conflicts lead to open warfare and savagery.

So there is hope or despair. Our purpose is to show our understanding and our determination that nothing will be allowed to stand in the way of helping Africa to make the huge cultural leap, because the people of Africa deserve no less.

I look forward to the debate and I know that I speak for all noble Lords in saying how encouraged we are by the fact that my noble friend the Leader of the House will maintain an active interest in this portfolio and continue to bring her own considerable standing to bear.

7.54 p.m.

Lord Freeman

My Lords, I shall complement the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lea, by concentrating briefly on Sierra Leone. That country is at the bottom of the UN world index of human development. That is after 11 years of civil war.

Sierra Leone is a special responsibility for the United Kingdom. How we help Sierra Leone deal with poverty is a touchstone of our overseas development assistance. A 10-year plan to reduce poverty was agreed by Her Majesty's Government and the Government of Sierra Leone in February. We all hope that a full strategy will be agreed for implementation by the middle of next year.

The £30 million of direct aid from the UK Government is significant. Clare Short is to be congratulated, as is the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, for supporting that programme. There are two key ways in which that aid should be used. We should realise that 60 per cent of the budget of Sierra Leone is provided by donor assistance. The two key elements are standards of governance and democracy, and economic development. Democracy and development go hand in hand. One cannot have one without the other.

I turn briefly to governance. President Kabbah has made an impressive start and we should support him, as I do. The special court should come to a speedy, sensible and clear conclusion; corruption must be put down and local government should be developed. We should also ensure the independence of the media.

A delegation will travel from this Parliament to Sierra Leone in November, which I hope to join. In terms of governance, the continued interest of this Parliament in the Government of Sierra Leone and its Parliament will help.

I turn finally to economic development. One priority about which I feel strongly is agribusiness. The transport costs of moving goods even from countries that are not landlocked—Sierra Leone has an excellent port—are great. We need investment in roads to help people up-country to move their products.

The noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, referred to the drop in private sector investment in developing nations. It has fallen sharply since 1997. More could be done in the United Kingdom to encourage UK investment in Sierra Leone. The problem is that the perception of many British businessmen lags behind the reality. That reality is a turn-around in governance and the beginnings of real development in Sierra Leone. I am pleased that trade missions have restarted and I hope that the noble Baroness can reassure the House that Sierra Leone remains a continued high priority for the Government.

7.58 p.m.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, for the debate and shall follow the line of the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, in confining my remarks to the position of what was the Belgian Congo and is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, whence I returned at the weekend, having been part of a five-person—four MPs and myself—parliamentary delegation that went there last week at the invitation of the government. I have never returned from anywhere in such a state of both despair and zeal. I felt despair because the country was in a condition which would take me an hour merely to sketch. It is in a state of degradation and collapse that beggars description. However, I felt a sense of zeal because, although the country is not and has never been part of the specifically British connection, it is at the very heart of Africa, with nine bordering states, many of them with their own enormous problems: Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda—one could go on and on. It is a country the size of Europe, with 60 million people, and it is in what one would call the last-chance saloon.

The Congo has been bedevilled by a history that has seen no light—Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness might be the title of a book about the Congo today— save the fact that there has been one miracle in the past year, which is the creation of a transitional national government. That comprises all the warring factions in the Congo, which as recently as July of this year inaugurated a combined and united government with Joseph Kabila as president and four vice-presidents. We spent more than an hour in the company of all of them and were, on the whole, greatly impressed by them. For the first time there is the beginning of demobilisation and disarmament.

However, with all that—the programmes and commissions they have set up and the work they are doing, especially via the United Nations "MONUC" with 13,000 men operating now under Chapter 7 so that they can actively intervene in the north-east where lighting still continues—the Congo needs at least one more great miracle. It needs to hold elections by the end of 2005 in a situation in which it has no electoral roll; where the cost of transport exhausts one-third of the UN budget in that country; where there is no road or rail network; and where corruption, fear and lawlessness are endemic.

I suggest to the House and to the Government that although we have been generous and increased our aid—this year we will be giving £28 million in bilateral aid and perhaps another £5 million in multilateral aid—with all the other contending demands the UK should take the lead in bringing together the OAS and the EU to draw up a special plan that is especially needed at this unique time. The Congo needs to get through the transition period and two years beyond. My time is up and I am grateful for the opportunity to make these few and inadequate comments.

8.1 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, few politicians have worked harder on the issues at the heart of this challenging debate than my noble friend the Leader of the House in recent years. When she comes to reply, I hope that she will feel able to reassure us on the following concerns: the food crisis of southern Africa and the particular vulnerability of Zimbabwe, Angola and Lesotho.

In the case of Zimbabwe, it is imperative on no account to let the grave political situation divert us from a determination to find effective ways to assist the people in their desperate plight. It seems to me significant that Save the Children Fund, for one, believes that it can still implement programmes there without endangering the humanitarian principles which govern all its work.

On NePAD, as Christian Aid powerfully argues, it is important to balance any "Marshall Plan" approach by both a genuine commitment to bottom-up development work and a determination to listen to civil society in the region—Churches, trade unions, NGOs and the rest—and to respond to validity in their analysis.

There must be support for an indigenous private sector and a realisation that level playing fields in world trade are not enough. Nations have to reach a level of fitness in order to be able to play. There must also be an honest appraisal of how far orthodox liberal economic theory alone, not to say dogma, can provide the social infrastructure essential for decent life and development. As my noble friend has argued, we must look at the role of social mores, ethics and a stand against corruption.

In general, we must all have at the top of our concern a refusal to allow resources to be diverted from Africa to Iraq and Afghanistan, where additionally must be the order of the day, and a recognition of the inescapability of our own responsibilities in the so-called developed world.

Oxfam and others—I declare an interest as an Oxfam Association member—repeatedly emphasised these responsibilities as follows. On trade, urgent action is needed to deal with the immense damage being done by subsidies that rich western countries pay to their farm sectors to produce a glut of cheap food and cotton, much of which is dumped on world markets, undercutting African and other farmers and robbing millions of their potential livelihoods. The CAP is a major culprit.

On aid, there is a necessity for the G8 to deliver the extra 6 billion dollars per year it has promised to Africa and to agree a timetable for reaching the 25 to 35 billion dollars a year which the UN estimates will be required for Africa to meet the millennium development goals.

On debt, the G8 really must stop the prevarication and cancel the debts of African countries struggling to make repayments at the expense of their health and education systems.

It is totally unacceptable that the world's poorest people, in their punishing struggle to survive let alone progress, should be crippled by debts accumulated in previous decades by undemocratic and corrupt leaders and their regimes.

8.4 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lea, for giving us the opportunity to focus on this important matter. The Church of England fully supports the Millennium Development Goals. However, based on current trends, it is concerned that most of the goals will not be reached in southern Africa by 2015. It is upon this region that I want to concentrate in this short contribution.

The UN Economic Commission for Africa has estimated that countries in southern Africa require a minimum sustained growth rate of 6.2 per cent per year to reach the income poverty target in 2015. Only Mozambique has grown more than 6 per cent in the past few years. During the 1990s, the average growth rate in Zambia has been 1.6 per cent and in conflict and war-ridden Angola, 0.5 per cent has been the rate. The Zimbabwean economy is the fastest contracting in the world today, with GDP shrinking by 17 per cent in 2002.

Six out of the eight MDGs certainly will not be reached if the international community fails to prevent the continuing rapid spread in the prevalence of HIV/ AIDS in southern Africa. The loss of assets and income, the reduced ability of caregivers, usually women, to work and mounting medical fees and funeral expenses are pushing already poor households deeper into poverty across the region.

HIV/AIDS has been a major contributing factor to increasing child mortality, as increasing numbers of children are being born infected with the virus, dramatically reducing their life expectancy. In the absence of HIV/AIDS, southern African countries would have been well on their way to halting the incidence of malaria and tuberculosis by 2015. As it is, these targets are almost out of reach.

What can be done? First, an increase in bilateral overseas development aid is needed. To this end, the Churches welcome and support the Chancellor's proposal for an international finance faculty intended to double the amount of development aid from OECD countries by 2015.

Secondly, in the wake of the Cancun disappointments, fresh efforts need to be made to open up markets to African producers. It was good to hear the reflection of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House on that in Monday's debate.

Thirdly, the cancellation of bilateral and multilateral debt is the essential component in any attempts to get within striking distance of MDG targets. Meanwhile, the Church remains a fully committed partner in every country in Africa and in a supporting role here in Britain.

Across the river today in another palace, some dozen African archbishops have been meeting fellow primates from around the world under the leadership of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. Important though their agenda may be, arguably the agenda in your Lordships' House this evening is of far more relevance to the people of Africa, for our agenda is literally a matter of life or death.

8.8 p.m.

Lord St John of Bletso

My Lords, it is impossible to do justice to this important debate in our allotted three minutes, but I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, for again giving us the opportunity to debate African development strategies.

There have been a number of major success stories in Africa this year—in particular, the removal of Charles Taylor from Liberia and, just last week, the breakthrough in Burundi, laying the foundations for a formula for a democratic government in that country. Of course, not only did the brief visit of President Bush reaffirm the United States' commitment to conflict resolution in Africa; it was also backed by a commitment in terms of promises of billions of dollars for tackling HIV/AIDS and assisting reform-minded governments.

On the other hand, there have been some concerns: the Great Lakes conflict is still unresolved; the situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate; and, as we debated just last week, the unsuccessful outcome of the Cancun meeting of the World Trade Organisation was disappointing.

So quo vadis the African development strategies? While we all support the need, objectives and principles of NePAD, the reality is that, despite the high expectations, NePAD has not made great progress in the past year. Of course, there are the exceptions of Senegal and Kenya, where great progress has been made. NePAD's credibility has certainly been harmed by the inability of African leaders to expedite the resolution of the Zimbabwe crisis.

Having said that, just a few months ago I was fortunate enough to have a one-on-one meeting with President Thabo Mbeki in which he reaffirmed his confidence that a breakthrough in Zimbabwe is imminent and that there will be a change to the Zimbabwe constitution, reintroducing the position of a Prime Minister and giving President Robert Mugabe merely ceremonial powers, paving the way for a government of national unity. Well, the jury is out. We wait in expectation.

It is also encouraging, as the noble Lord, Lord Lea, mentioned, that 16 states have signed up for the NePAD Peer Review, which will, in all likelihood, commence in January or February next year. While there is clearly a full commitment by the G8 partners to assist in tackling the many economic, social and political challenges in Africa, all too often meaningful projects are hampered and paralysed by the lack of capacity, red tape and bureaucracy in low-income target countries. The African Union summit in Mozambique was also rather a disappointment. Many commitments were not followed through, and there certainly needs to be far more urgency in establishing the peace and security council and the roll-out of the African peacekeeping force.

My allotted three minutes are almost up. Her Majesty's Government have played a pivotal role in conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction in Africa, together with our humanitarian relief efforts. I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, mentioned the successes in Sierra Leone. The roadmap for Africa will be a bumpy one, but it is important that African issues keep centre stage in your Lordships' House.

8.11 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, Kofi Annan said last week that it was more important to support people than governments. It is hard to resist the conclusion that some governments are less the mainstay of their people than the cause of their downfall.

The major forces for African development are still trade, aid and debt, but export subsidies have depressed prices in Africa, and African countries made a powerful and almost unanswerable case against them in Cancun. No wonder that trade talks have stalled because the EU is so unclear and such injustice is allowed to continue. How can African countries develop under the weight of such an albatross? Aid flows are just not increasing enough to finance the millennium development goals, and the likelihood of meeting those goals is fast receding, even in education.

Much hope is placed on the IFF, but countries will have to continue to open up their markets indiscriminately as a condition for accessing more resources. Half of all aid is still going to middle-income countries. Debt relief is the most efficient form of finance, as it will directly free up funding for poverty reduction. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, that requires nothing less than the full cancellation of external debt to countries such as Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania.

There have been problems with the HIPC programme, even in flagship countries like Uganda and Mozambique. Any instruments such as HIPC must be consistent with the millennium development goals, but that is not happening. The concept of debt sustainability falls down when one knows how precariously it is based on exports. It depends on coffee prices, which have lost Uganda millions in export revenue, and on foreign exchange, which has skewed Mozambique's exports in the form of one major aluminium plant.

With the collapse of commodity prices, countries that have been through the HIPC initiative are still in a position of unsustainable debt. In that case, what measures have been taken by the OECD countries to top up the HIPC initiative and compensate the countries affected? In the mean time, does the Minister agree that within the Africa Action Plan a more realistic debt sustainability analysis must be applied?

NePAD is an important initiative, which will have more success in a development than a political context, but unfortunately it advocates a single national model of economic governance and does not allow space for local initiative or people-based development. A poverty reduction strategy must address local realities. That may be why NePAD is still perceived by African civil society as a vehicle for donor conditionality and fundraising rather than the promised African renaissance.

However, the African Union, at its meeting in Maputo in July set up an economic and social council to engage civil society groups and that may be a positive way forward, although only in a highly controlled environment.

8.14 p.m.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, the erosion of both grand and petty corruption is, indeed, one of the keys to development in Africa. I declare an interest as a member of Transparency International UK's advisory council and note the publication of a strong report by the Zambian chapter while I was there. DfID is funding the new Zambian anti-corruption commission, concentrating on high level corruption with co-operation from our own Serious Fraud Office. This seems to be having a knock-on effect on the petty corruption which so undermines people's confidence in a democracy and the rule of law. Half of those surveyed thought petty corruption had decreased, and all of the people I talked to, at various levels, thought so too.

Corruption has probably been most damaging in the extractive industries and I hope my noble friend can give us an update on the Prime Minister's Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative as well as the EU legislation on transparency and the UN Convention Against Corruption.

Most Northern European oil companies broadly support the transparency initiative, but there is an obstacle to full transparency. Host governments tend to insert a clause obliging the agreement of all parties before disclosure can be made.

Not all local joint venture partners, for instance, state oil companies, are into the transparency culture. So, in these cases only the western oil extractor's payments will be published, and then it is difficult to call the Government to account for their expenditure of all the oil revenues. Mr George Soros has thrown his weight behind the linked unofficial "Publish What You Pay" campaign, and I understand has just written to the World Bank and the IMF asking for extractive industry transparency to be made a condition for World Bank and IMF loans and for its inclusion in poverty reduction strategies—I hope not too late for Chad. May I ask my noble friend what the Government's reaction is? 1 hope my right honourable friend the Chancellor will support the requests.

Meanwhile, extreme poverty remains. I saw remarkable UNICEF projects to hold vulnerable communities together in Zambia—I declare an interest as a trustee—supporting community schools, emergency feeding and the care of AIDS orphans. These give people hope but what gives them power is the ability to earn a living. Formal employment touches only 20 per cent of the population, so other routes to economic survival must be created. That is where microfinance comes in. I declare an interest as an associate of Opportunity International.

In Zambia, their microcredit provides a lifeline into trading and eventually into more capital-intensive ventures. It is how school fees and medical emergencies are paid for. It will be playing a part in Zambian diversification from mining to agriculture. I hope that my noble friend can tell us something about DfID's support for microfinance.

8.18 p.m.

Lord Chan

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Lea, for securing this debate. My focus tonight will be on strategies to develop the skills of African health professionals to care for Africa's young children. This approach covers the prevention of infections, the maintenance of health and treatment of ill children based on real partnership between Africans and others in African settings.

The Government's emphasis on helping the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa, one of the Millennium Development Goals, is essential for improving the prospects for children. The effectiveness of this policy can be improved by establishing sustainable services to secure better survival and health for young African children.

In the 1990s new medical schools established in southern African universities began educating and training local students to become doctors. This development, assisted by medical teachers from Britain, has resulted in African doctors remaining to practise in their home countries. One outstanding success has been in Malawi, where locally trained doctors provide much needed services in towns and rural areas. In the past Malawian doctors have continued to work in Europe and America where they were trained rather than return home.

The next step asked for by Africans is to develop doctors to become specialists, particularly paediatricians who care for sick children and teach undergraduate students. In order to achieve this without requiring African-trained doctors to spend many years in Britain or America, a partnership has recently been established between the Mandela Rhodes Foundation and the Rhodes Trust with our Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. I declare my interest as a Fellow of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and as a patron of the college's international group.

This partnership discussed paediatric education for capacity building in developing countries, particularly in southern Africa, at a seminar at Magdalen College, Oxford, a fortnight ago. Lessons learned from experiences in developing countries were discussed and an action plan for southern Africa drafted.

The success of this partnership will be guaranteed if government, through DfID, were involved. As more African doctors, nurses and other health professionals take responsibility for childcare, we can look forward to better infant and child survival in sub-Saharan African countries.

The principle of capacity building the skills of Africans to promote and maintain the health of their children in Africa is also being developed against malaria. Here the investment by DfID is now being further developed by a new charity, the Malaria Consortium, of which I am chairman, to strengthen and train more African health professionals in two centres in Ghana and in Uganda to implement policies and practices to protect young children and pregnant mothers from malaria, which kills one million every year.

Knowing how committed the Leader of the House is to development in Africa, I look forward to her views on capacity building through skills transfer in African countries and the Government's plans for involvement in this essential activity.

8.21 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Lea of Crondall for initiating this debate. Its wording is carefully chosen because it does not imply that any particular organisations or countries are responsible. But, in asking Her Majesty's Government about progress, I think that supporters of the resolution are implying that the Government should be involved in Africa's development, especially in supporting initiatives led by African countries through the arrangements of NePAD.

Some of those initiatives are supported by governments, United Nations agencies and African and international non-governmental organisations. We should acknowledge that the Government, through DfID are looking into and supporting these contributions to development strategy and projects. I declare an interest as chairman of ACOPS.

I shall take this opportunity to report on positive developments taking place in Africa in the sphere of environmental improvement and sustainable development—an aspect highlighted by African leaders and our Prime Minister at the Johannesburg summit in 2002. During the debate in this Chamber on 21st May, I explained how NePAD's environment initiative is led by President Wade of Senegal. One of the eight elements of the initiative concerns the coastal and marine issues of vital concern to Africa. About 50 per cent of Africa's population and about 30 per cent of its economic activity is based in these areas.

However, their future sustainability is in doubt because of the many damaging influences caused by actions of the developed world. These need to be addressed urgently, starting with the rapacious fishing by ships from Europe and Asia, restrictive trade practices, emigration of experts and climate change effects. Those issues were highlighted by experts from Africa and the UK and by Ministers from Senegal, Kenya and the Seychelles at a meeting held in London in May. My noble friend Lord Evans spoke on behalf of the Government.

Several positive developments, however, were presented, such as the effective policing by some countries of these foreign fishing fleets, new measures to ensure that tourism is beneficial ecologically, economically and, as one might hope, culturally, the establishment of marine protected areas, and most importantly, the involvement of many African communities in genuine sustainable development projects.

The encouraging news this month is that the first NePAD operation has now been set up—the Coastal and Marine Co-ordinating Unit—under the auspices of the Minister for the environment in the Government of Kenya, Dr Kulundu. President Kibaki of Kenya has given his full support to this initiative, which will help to reverse the trend of marine environmental degradation and to help reduce poverty in these areas.

I look forward to hearing from my noble friend the Lord president of the Council on how sustainable development is an integral part of the Government's strategy for Africa.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, I agree with the thinking of the noble Lord, Lord Lea, that regionalism—by which I mean shared responsibilities; shared resources—is in great part the answer.

Together with Chief Anyaoku, recent Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, and with the patronage of the Ooni of Ife, the Emir of Kano and the Igwe of Achalla, I jointly chair a consultative process whose primary objective is to recapture and sustain the traditional links between Nigeria and the United Kingdom, drawing together through the private sector and civil society.

We identified 19 different sectors—ranging from civil society, education, health and environment to financial services, small to medium-sized enterprises, security and defence to agriculture—that are deemed to make up the bilateral relationship. Two substantive and complete documents authored by professionals covering a wide spectrum have been produced including identifying a range of implementable projects. Far-ranging activities have been undertaken to increase the capacity of civil society in its activities to support the democratic process, respect for human rights, eradication of poverty and good commercial and political practices, mindful of the role which good relations between faith communities in both countries can play to assist.

In the education sector, a detailed symposium on education illustrated the parlous state of the sector and identified where the United Kingdom can assist in "education for all" initiatives. Time does not allow me to list the three distinct strategic ways forward that have been identified—although, if requested, they can of course be provided to the Government. Future focus will be to motivate the SMEs of both countries to work in partnership, each bringing a mixture of local knowledge and expertise to the table; and, secondly, the agricultural sector.

In addition, our process has been, in discussion, to control theft and loss from security breakdown in the delta oil-producing region, which represents a loss to the economy of 3 billion US dollars a year. President Obasanjo has said that a long-term solution must be found. The UK is uniquely positioned to advise and assist in the exclusive economic zone command and control management. Will the Lord President urgently review government guidelines in the context of the benefits to British industry and of assisting an ally?

The letting of federal contracts for expediency without budgets being in place often presents nightmare commercial scenarios—a barrier to investors. Competition in the construction industry is also urgently required as main contractors have hitherto been charging up to double a fair price for essential infrastructure projects.

Although I have belaboured the endeavours of our process—and in so doing publicly thank all those people who have contributed—advances are being made and although we attempt not to supersede but to complement other effective initiatives, the Nigeria-British consultative process is able to offer guidelines for NePAD and for the future evaluation of bilateral relations.

In conclusion, the era of good intentions must now end. The doing is all. NePAD spearheads the drive for a resurgent Africa, but it is with the private sector, through equitable generation of trade and creating the conditions for such, that real solutions lie.

8.28 p.m.

Baroness Northover

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Lea, for raising this important issue, especially when so many eyes are on Iraq. On Monday, we discussed the breakdown of the World Trade Organisation talks in Cancun. That breakdown was bad news for the poorest countries. African countries, in particular, need trade protection and for their industries not to be decimated by cheap, subsidised imports. It is through economic growth and trade, rather than aid, that real progress is likely to come. Those talks must therefore get back on track, focussing on development and the relief of poverty.

Under the Millennium Development Goals, the aim is to reduce by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015. What stands in the way of that in Africa? First, as we have heard, there is conflict, not only destroying lives and prosperity in one country, but affecting neighbouring countries. We have heard about the Democratic Republic of Congo and its key moment from my noble friend Lord Phillips. In Zimbabwe, it has been estimated that it will take seven years to put right each year of economic catastrophe. What action is being taken to address those conflicts? What is being done to check the sale of small arms across the continent?

Then there is the crisis of HIV/AIDS in Africa, to which noble Lords have referred. In some southern African areas, HIV/AIDS affects over one third of the population, largely those who should have been in their most economically productive years. In Zambia, 11 per cent of children are AIDS orphans. The effects of the epidemic will be seen for decades to come. Can the Minister tell us how far the agreement to provide drugs in the poorest countries really will assist, or whether the agreements are so ringed around that few will benefit?

Education has been undermined by the AIDS epidemic. Teachers have died, and pupils are kept from school to care for relatives, yet education is the key to the future of the continent. Does the noble Baroness agree that reductions in debt should be targeted to enable countries to spend more on education and training? The noble Lord, Lord Lea, stressed the importance of NePAD. How optimistic is the noble Baroness about the role that NePAD might play in promoting democracy, human rights and economic progress?

It is bizarre to try to cover a continent in three minutes. But it is a reflection of the interest in the House of Lords that we are subject to such a guillotine. That there is such a level of interest is surely very encouraging.

8.31 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lea, on sponsoring this important debate. It is not surprising that it has attracted speakers from all corners of the House with widespread experience of Africa. In congratulating the noble Baroness the Lord President of the Council on her appointment, I also agree with the welcome expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lea, that the noble Baroness will continue to speak on international development matters in the House.

The combination of debt relief and encouraging free trade can act as a catalyst to securing economic regeneration throughout Africa. Free trade is vital and should be at the very core of development strategy. Yet, recently, Vijay Makhan, the African Union's Commissioner for Trade, Industry and Economic Affairs, said:

African countries should consider quitting the WTO if it does not deliver". What discussions have the Government had with African leaders, and what are they doing to persuade African nations to remain in the WTO?

The World Bank estimates that eliminating all barriers to trade would generate 250 to 520 billion dollars extra in global income. With almost 50 per cent of that income going to developing countries, that could lift more than 144 million people out of poverty by 2015. Noble Lords on these Benches have always stressed that point. We must be prepared to be bold and to make the first move in restoring the political impetus into those critical issues relating to multilateral trade.

Those issues are played out alongside the continuing scourge of HIV/AIDS, which many noble Lords have mentioned. HIV/AIDS is not merely a health issue; it is also a development issue. In sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, entire workforces are being eliminated. The situation is compounded by the fact that poor countries are losing workers to developed nations. There are an estimated 13 million AIDS orphans in Africa alone. By 2010, the total number is expected to be 25 million. What are the Government doing to help African AIDS orphans?

In Kenya, it is estimated that a person dies every minute from AIDS. Noble Lords are well aware of the cultural factors contributing to the crisis and the lack of education regarding the spread of HIV/AIDS. In Uganda, through a system of education and health programmes, the tide has started to turn and new infections are in decline. What discussions are the Government having with African leaders about education and treatment for those affected?

It really is time to get beyond rhetoric. What counts now for the people of Africa are the actions of countries such as the United Kingdom. We urge the Government seriously to push forward with their development work in Africa and to deliver on the promises made by the Chancellor three years ago.

Baroness Amos

I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Lea of Crondall for introducing this important debate. It will stretch all my skills because I have eight minutes to respond to the points that have been made, so I will write to noble Lords if I am not able to respond to specific points.

I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark that some African countries will fail to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. That is true, and it will delay development in Africa for millions of people. Africa's problems are complex and inter-connected. We need to work jointly within the G8, the EU, the UN, the African Union and African governments themselves to address the range of issues on which concerted progress is needed. There are four underlying problems.

First, as the noble Baroness, Lady Northover mentioned, is conflict in key countries and regions, which overrides any attempts to prioritise human development objectives. We must support African efforts to resolve armed conflicts. We have been instrumental in supporting the resolution of conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, gave a graphic description of what is happening there. We have agreed an initial programme, but I am concerned that, because there is a transitional government, other donors will walk away. We have to prevent that.

We have also helped in Sudan, Burundi, Angola and west Africa. Some of those countries are on the road to peace and need the assurance of long-term support. We need to provide assistance so that African countries and regional and sub-regional organisations are able to engage more effectively to prevent and resolve conflicts.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover mentioned the elimination of illegal weapons. We have pledged more than £20 million to combat the global proliferation of small arms. The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, mentioned Sierra Leone in particular. I can say that we will continue our commitment to and engagement with Sierra Leone. We have pledged £120 million over the next three years. We agreed a 10-year memorandum in November last year. There are a number of priorities, but tackling corruption and strengthening democratic institutions were areas raised by the noble Lord in his speech.

Governance remains a fundamental issue for Africa's development. My noble friend Lord Lea raised the issue of corruption. The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, raised the issue in relation to Sierra Leone and my noble friend also talked about governance. Effective institutions, representative democracy and accountable government are essential conditions for private sector investment, growth and poverty reduction in Africa. We support the strengthening of capacity-building programmes that focus on economic and corporate governance, such as the African Capacity Building Foundation. We are working on anti-corruption in Malawi, Uganda and Nigeria and are also working in Zambia and Mozambique.

My noble friend Lady Whitaker talked about the extractive industry transparency initiative. We are encouraging countries dependent on oil, gas and mining to pilot this new approach, companies to make their payments to governments clear, and governments to publish what they receive so that their citizens can hold them accountable. We are examining the George Soros proposals mentioned by my noble friend with respect to the World Bank and the IMF.

My noble friends Lord Lea and Lord Judd, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich and the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, all talked about trade, as did other noble Lords. There is no doubt that the terms of trade have deteriorated and commodity prices have declined. The result has been low investment and economic growth, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. That means that insufficient jobs and incomes are being created for the poor and too few resources are generated for health and education—key areas for development. Progress on trade policy issues will be essential for Africa to become competitive, but most countries lack capacity for trade policy analysis, negotiation and implementation and for ensuring that trade reform leads to poverty reduction.

We should be in no doubt that the current system does not work for the least developed countries. Africa's share of world trade halved between 1980 and 1999, so I am truly disappointed at the failure of the WTO talks in Cancun. It is most damaging to the world's poorest countries. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, that we are in constant discussions with our African partners on the issue. I met many of them at Cancun. We feel that Africa stands to get a better deal through multilateral negotiations in the WTO, in which developing countries make up two thirds of the membership, rather than in a multitude of regional and bilateral agreements with bigger economic players.

We are committed to securing progress in the negotiations most crucial to African countries: agricultural market access; reduction in trade-distorting subsidies; and specific and differential treatment provisions for poorer countries, which were a particular concern of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich.

My noble friends Lord Lea of Crondall and Lord Judd and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark raised the subject of economic growth. Increased aid is important, and we are committed to trying to double the amount spent on aid through the international finance facility under the leadership of my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We are committed to putting 0.4 per cent of our gross national income into development by 2005–06 and to providing £1 billion for Africa by the same date. That commitment remains, despite the commitments that we have made on Iraq.

Economic growth is essential to poverty reduction and development in Africa. We continue to argue that the interests of developing countries must be taken into account in international economic and trade discussions. We want to promote the responsible private investment and business activity that are the key to economic growth.

The right reverend Prelate, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and other noble Lords raised the issue of HIV/AIDS, and the noble Lord, Lord Chan, spoke about health and child mortality. We have made a significant contribution in those areas. The noble Lord, Lord Chan, asked specifically about capacity building. I will write to the noble Lord with details of what we are doing.

My noble friend Lord Judd raised the issue of the food shortage in southern Africa. We continue our humanitarian support. There is a shortage in the World Food Programme appeal, and we have just agreed a further £5 million for Zimbabwe.

With regard to HIV/AIDS, we are the second-largest donors. We invested over £270 million in programmes world-wide in 2002–03.

We remain committed to the implementation of HIPC. I assure noble Lords who raised the question that we are pressing for improvements to the initiative to help to strengthen debt sustainability.

I am running out of time. We continue to support NePAD and African efforts to develop the continent. We see the peer review mechanism as an important tool for African leaders for learning lessons. The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, referred to Zimbabwe. That situation must be resolved, but we do not see Zimbabwe as a test case for peer review.

I must answer two specific questions from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, on sustainable development. Our policy is to integrate environmental issues into broader support for government financial and planning systems in developing countries. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, spoke about Nigeria. We agree that progress in Nigeria is key to development in Africa. We work closely with the Government, particularly the new economic team. We have just reviewed our overall strategy, and we support the Education for All initiative.

We will continue our efforts to work closely and collaboratively within the international system. I hope that, when the UK takes over the presidency of the G8 in 2005, we will be in a position to report considerable progress.

8.44 p.m.

Lord Lea of Crondall

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that comprehensive update, albeit in a very short space of time. I thank all noble Lords for their well informed contributions.