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Column 280economies--they do not have such things--and are being asked to compete successfully in global markets without even the levels of protection and support that, even now, we in this country and the European Union take for granted.
That challenge to those countries is doomed to failure. If we want our development assistance to be effective, we must review the policies that we are promoting in respect of developing countries, not to lock them out of the global market but to enable them to participate in it effectively.
Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) : My right hon. Friend the Minister rightly dwelt on population policy. When I listened to his account of the glittering careers of his fellow founder members of the all-party group on population development, I could not help thinking that there might yet be some hope for me as its current chairman.
There have been significant developments in population policy over the past two years. The most obvious, of course, is the change of United States policy with the new Administration. The second was the monumental decision by the G7 summit to address the issue of population and to invite the United Nations international conference on population and development in Cairo, which is due to take place in September, to address the issue and to come up with proposals for the world to consider.
We know the serious statistics on population growth. The world's population has doubled since the war, and it is expected to double again over the next 42 years. But the most frightening aspect of all is that 95 per cent. of that growth is in the world's poorest regions, which, as hon. Members have pointed out, are affected by crime, disease, tribalism and scarcity.
Those countries want to do something about that. They realise that population growth is the root cause of their problems, and that they must have population policies, but they also face severe problems in the implementation of those policies. As a result, there is an unmet demand for contraception by 350 million couples, and there are undoubtedly hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people who are unaware of available contraception facilities.
The United Nations conference in Cairo in September is the best last chance to do something, for two very good reasons. The first is that the climate in the underdeveloped world is now of preparation to accept and face up to the issue. There is awareness that family planning is the best aid investment going. A classic example is Indonesia. It is now considered that 64 developing countries have explicit demographic policies, compared with 31 in 1975 and a mere 15 in 1965.
The second reason why this might be a critical moment is that the climate is as good as it is ever going to be in the developed world to introduce a global family planning programme. I have always felt that the two most influential people in that issue are the President of the United States and the Pope.
As we know, the United States has changed its policy. The 1984 Mexico conference resulted in a reduction of funding for the United Nations population fund and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. The cause was the controversy over abortion and the unwillingness of the United States to fund those organisations. I am pleased to say that the Clinton Administration has overruled that.
Column 281Frankly, I would like to have been a fly on the wall during President Clinton's meeting with the Pope the other day when he drew the Pope's attention to the fact that his policy on abortion is that it should be safe, legal and rare. He also said that he did not support abortion as a means of birth control--neither do I--for the simple reason that it is a very inefficient method.
Sadly, the Pope has not changed his mind. If anything, he has become more entrenched recently. I have huge respect for the Pope and the religious movement that he leads ; they made a significant contribution to the end of the cold war. However, on abortion, I believe that he is a minority interest. I respect his objection to abortion, but I find his objection to contraception puzzling. What is of greater concern to me is the determination of the Vatican to try to influence the outcome of the Cairo conference. I hope that my hon. Friends in the Government will resist the Vatican's attempts to water down the final declaration.
It is absolutely vital that the Cairo conference is a success and picks up the gauntlet thrown down by the G7 summit. We must now establish a global demographic plan. I have not seen the final draft document which is being circulated, but I understand that it runs to 118 pages and has 16 chapters. It should have only four pages and be set out in simple terms. The Government have made a big input into the preparation of the document. After all, it was my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who got the issue of population on to the G7 agenda, and I know that officials in the Overseas Development Administration have been very active.
I shall make several points about the Cairo conference and the final declaration. First, it is essential that the conference steers away from making abortion a big issue. It is a matter for national Governments to decide, not for international conferences. Secondly, I hope that the final declaration recognises the significance of the fact that reproductive health is included in it. After all, healthy mothers and children lead to smaller families.
Thirdly, I hope that the conference will recognise the significant role that non-governmental organisations can play. I would like to see NGOs around the world follow the example of charities such as Population Concern and Marie Stopes International, which pioneered the concept of social marketing in family planning.
As ever, the key outstanding issue for the Cairo conference is that of resources. I believe that the world is at a crossroads on that issue. We must decide whether population growth is a fundamental issue ; if so, we must ensure that it has proper funding. It is estimated that, by 2000, a reproductive health programme will need some $17 billion, of which the family planning component will be $10.2 billion. Two thirds of that can come from developing countries.
If all developed countries contributed 4 per cent. of their overseas aid budget for family planning, population policies and population programmes, that would raise more than $8 billion, and more than make up the shortfall. If that was forthcoming, we would see the world population stabilise at about the 10 billion to 11 billion mark.
The British Government have a fine record in this field. I am proud of their record, and I am prepared to defend it. I know of few other areas of government which have seen such a significant increase in funding as the area of population programmes. I know that the Government are
Column 282reluctant to set targets, but I urge them to take the figure of 4 per cent. seriously and to recognise the urgency of the situation. Generations look to the Cairo conference to come up with a solution. If it can establish the kernel of a global demographic family planning programme, if the Governments of the world can commit themselves to substantial increases in funding, and if Britain can say that it has played a part in that, the conference will be a turning point in our history, global turmoil in the next millennium will be averted, and the British Government will be able to say that they played a part in a monumental year. If all that happens, it will have been worth while.
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) : With the problems of the developed and the developing world, one would expect that what is needed is a sense of mission and vision. Sadly, that is lacking in the Government's policies.
We have almost become too familiar with the statistics but it is worth putting at least some of them on the record. We are all aware that the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product is desirable, but no Government in this country of whatever complexion has ever reached that target, although the Labour Government got closest.
Currently, our percentage of GNP is hovering at about 0.3 per cent., but by the year 1995-96 it will be down to 0.26 per cent. of GNP. We are going the wrong way : we are going backwards all the time and giving less and less. The Government will argue that it is not so much a matter of arbitrary statistics plucked out the air as about quality and delivery. If we look at what is happening in the world, however, it is clear that the situation is getting much worse. Trends suggest that by the end of this decade 770 million people will lack access to safe water and 100 million children will not be enrolled in primary schools. Moreover, the number of people living in absolute poverty is rising by 2 per cent. per annum, so by the year 2000 that figure is likely to have risen from 1.3 billion to 1.5 billion--about a quarter of the world's population.
Access to health services is remarkably low. In Mozambique, for example, 61 per cent. of the population have no access to health services. In Uganda, 39 per cent. have no access to health services. Elsewhere in Africa the picture is similar, and in the Indian sub-continent things are not much better. For those who have not seen the document and who want to study the matter in detail I commend the Actionaid publication, "The Reality of Aid 1994", which calls for comprehensive reading and a lot of study.
The argument about overseas aid--how it is used and how it is delivered-- has gone on for a long time. Some years ago, my late friend Judith Hart, when she was Minister for Overseas Development, pointed out that trade had an important part to play in assisting developing countries. All of us realised that we did not want recipient countries to be simply supplicants living off the crumbs from the rich man's table : we wanted to see them develop their own economies and sustain themselves, but the balance is now completely the wrong way round.
The Government rest on trade figures as being wholly wonderful. They forget that 40 per cent. of British aid is tied to goods and services bought from this country. In many cases, developing countries are paying more for the
Column 283goods than they might otherwise pay. What we are seeing is not a new world order, but a sort of new economic imperialism. We must address that topic.
Due to the shortage of time, I shall concentrate on the specific problems of Uganda, which has been struggling on two fronts : first, to recover from the Amin years and, secondly, to cope with the immense spread of the AIDS virus. As though that were not enough, it now faces an immense problem as a consequence of the horrific conflict in Rwanda, with bodies floating down the Kagera river to the north-western shores of Lake Victoria. The health problems that they pose are too horrific to contemplate. I am grateful to the Minister and to Peter Troy of the disaster unit of the emergency aid department of the ODA for giving me a copy of a letter of 15 June from the high commission in Uganda saying that that particular problem is now being contained. However, the Government believe that there is no need for an emergency aid contribution at this stage, apart from urgently needed medical drugs for the worst affected areas, including Mpigi, Rakai, Masaka and Kalangala. Has sanction been given for those medical supplies ? What other steps will be taken to deal with the problem, which in my view will persist for a long time to come ? Some people in Uganda feel that they have been let down because past promises have not been fulfilled.
We have all heard trumpeted from the Dispatch Box or on television immense new programmes of aid to be provided in different parts of the world, but sometimes it does not arrive. For example, Mr. Manuel Pinto, Member of Parliament for Rakai and director-general of the Uganda AIDS Commission secretariat, says that Actionaid UK and Virgin Atlantic were to collect an airlift of materials for AIDS patients from Europe to take to Uganda, but none of it has arrived and there are no signs of its arriving. I have asked Actionaid to investigate the matter and to give me a report.
The Minister acknowledged in his speech that aid and development policy were inextricably linked with foreign policy, that aid and development strategy were not only about provision or delivery of money or materials, and that of primary importance was the creation of political stability to allow for reconstruction and growth. It is in view of that that I wish to deal quickly with two other issues. The first is what is happening in Angola, where a great tragedy is unfolding. The pluralistic electoral process brokered by the United Nations broke down when UNITA refused to accept the election results. The problem is that in the discussions and negotiations the western Governments, and Britain in particular, exhorted and pressured the legitimate Government of Angola to make one concession after another to UNITA's Savimbi. We are now at the dangerous stage at which the United Nations might even withdraw its mandate, which has been extended only until 30 June.
We have to grasp such problems. It is no use brokering an agreement and then walking away from it. We have to realise that loss of life is continuing both as a result of the fighting between the two forces and due to lack of food and starvation because humanitarian aid is not getting through. Only yesterday a United Nations aid convoy was attacked and more than half the convoy burnt. Why cannot we grasp the nettle ? Why cannot we see that we have to deal with the
Column 284problem ? We ought to look closely at the involvement and engagement of Zaire in the problem. We must face up to these things. It is necessary for the Government to take action. The situation cannot be allowed to continue.
We are in great danger of making the same mistake in Mozambique as was made in Angola. In Mozambique the pluralist election process is being discussed and moved forward. The United Nations has not learnt the lesson of its failings in Angola. It did not make sure that the combatants were properly disarmed. It did not ensure that the influence of the central Government extended throughout the whole country. As a result of that failure, we have seen a terrible breakdown. We must learn the lessons for Mozambique and make sure that policies are carried forward properly.
There is a tremendous new force in Africa. We all expect great things from the new, democratic South Africa. It has tremendous problems to solve on its own doorstep. South Africa has dominated the region in a malign way for decades. It can now do so in a benign way, but problems remain to be resolved. There is an argument about whether South Africa will suck in investment to the detriment of its friends in the front line states, but that is an issue of which the South African Government are well aware. We have to discuss the problems with the people round about.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, we must deal with the problems which are manifest throughout the world. We do not have time to go into them all tonight, but the spectre of poverty and ill health stalks the land. We require political will and firm commitments, but I honestly do not believe that we shall get such commitments--so that promises can be translated into reality--until we have a Labour Government.
Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester) : I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution to today's debate, despite the fact that the issue of overseas aid does not dominate my postbag. I receive articulate and well-argued letters from concerned groups, as we all do, but when I receive letters from ordinary individuals they do not ask why the Government are not spending more : they usually ask why the Government spend as much as they do overseas when there is still so much to be done at home.For most taxpayers, spending on overseas aid is not a key priority. That may well be a matter for regret, but it needs to be recognised. Those of us who want to lift overseas aid up the pecking order of priorities need to make the case, not to convince ourselves but to convince those who have to foot the bill. That is why I believe that the Opposition's motion is ill conceived as well as ill considered. It is ill considered simply because it flies in the face of the facts. I do not believe that the Opposition heard what my right hon. Friend the Minister said to us this afternoon. He pointed out that at £2.2 billion this year our overseas programme is the sixth biggest in the world. I understood my right hon. Friend to say that new Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development figures are likely to be released tomorrow showing that in 1993 the United Kingdom's aid :GNP ratio was above the average for all donors and that the United Kingdom was one of only seven donors which increased their aid. That is good news. Praise from the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) is neither here nor there, but praise from the OECD and the United Nations is worth acknowledging.
Column 285The Opposition's motion is ill conceived because it represents a missed opportunity. Instead of using the debate to make the case for an even greater commitment to overseas aid, the Opposition blithely assume that the case has already been taken on board by the public, which it has not, and then indulge themselves in somewhat sanctimonious, holier-than-thou platitudinising, which rings a bit hollow. It is easy to engage in parliamentary knockabout as to who will achieve the 0.7 per cent. of GNP target first. In the mouths of the Liberal Democrats, it is irrelevant. They once talked about 1 per cent. That is laudable perhaps, but it is neither here nor there : it is all moonshine. In the mouths of Labour Members, it is hypocrisy. When the Labour party was last in office, so parlous was the state of public finances under its stewardship that it had to announce cuts of millions in its overseas aid plans. Whether it is under the shop stewards of yesteryear or--who knows-- the ship's steward of tomorrow, it will amount to the same thing : high- minded rhetoric combined with a fatal failure to deliver.
I should like our electors and taxpayers to understand why overseas aid is so important, not only to other countries but to our country. That is one of the reasons why in my constituency about two years ago I brought together a range of individuals from local aid organisations and pressure groups such as Christian Aid, UNICEF, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, Results and others to form the Chester World Development Group. Our aim was not simply to reinforce our prejudices, which is easily done, as we can see from the Opposition Benches, but to find others who may not have given such issues much consideration and to try to convince them. Last Friday, for instance, we met the leading high street bankers in our community at the Institute of Bankers in Chester and together we examined the issue of third-world debt. The House has been reminded starkly of the dilemma : debt and interest payments due from the third world are three times more than all the aid that they now receive. According to the OECD, the poorest people in the world paid the rich nations £13.4 billion more in debt repayments in 1992 than we gave them in aid.
What are we to do about third-world debt ? As the world recognises, even if the Opposition will not, Britain has taken a lead. It has cancelled £1 billion of debt owed by the poorest nations. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out the Trinidad terms back in September 1990, he also asked the UK commercial banks to make "a comparable response". So far, that response has not been forthcoming. Instead, the banks have either sold off the bulk of their third-world debt portfolio to other financial institutions on the secondary market, or they have retained the debt. Neither of those approaches provides any reduction in the debt burden of countries with a desperate lack of resources in which millions of innocent people face an enormous struggle to survive.
The 40 low-income countries have a gross national product of less than $650 per head per annum ; yet they owe $4.3 billion to the financial institutions of the richest nations. The humanitarian argument is the overriding argument for reducing the debts of the poorest countries, but there are other important reasons--reasons of self-interest--why commercial banks and other financial institutions should respond to the call for debt relief. If the shackles of debt can be removed from the poorest countries so that they can begin to build their economies, many of the products and services that they will require will have to be
Column 286obtained from the industrialised countries. That would be good news for us, for our economy, for businesses in our country and for the customers of the commercial banks.
Rightly, the high street banks increasingly promote their role in the community. When there is a disaster in the developing world, the banks are always among the first to step forward to offer help, for example, by providing collecting centres for aid. They are ready to help actively with the short-term crisis, as part of their commitment to the worldwide community. They could promote a more positive image for themselves by acting to reduce the debt burden on the poorest countries in the long term too. In making provision against their profits for non-payment of the capital interest on loans for the poorest countries, the banks have already borne the adverse effects of the debt crisis on their profits. Reducing the outstanding debts would have a minimal impact on their results and on the expectations of their shareholders and depositors.
What intrigued me about the meeting with the bankers in Chester was the fact that, for many of them, it was clearly the first time the issue had been properly discussed ; yet it affects their shareholders and customers, just as the Government's approach to third-world debt affects their customers and shareholders--the electorate and the taxpayer. Of course, there is more to be done. One step is to take the public with us on the issue. A top-down policy without a bottom-up understanding and shared ownership of that policy will not work in the long term.
I am pleased that the briefing notes that Christian Aid--whose head of finance, Paul Tyler, made such a key contribution to our meeting with the bankers in Chester--sent to hon. Members for today's debate acknowledged the considerable progress that has been made in recent years. In the south, in the past three decades, the mortality rate of young children has nearly halved, adult literacy has increased by more than one third, the number of people with access to safe drinking water has increased by more than two thirds and the proportion of the world's people living in absolute poverty has fallen from perhaps 50 per cent. to 20 per cent. But that still leaves 1.2 billion people living in absolute poverty.
Aid remains essential for the poorest countries, but overall the economies of the developing world will benefit far more from increased access to trade opportunities than from aid on its own. Christian Aid is one of the organisations which are rightly pressing for much more to be done. It is also one of those organisations which rightly acknowledge that much that is positive can be said about the British aid programme. In no small measure, that is due to the remarkable leadership that the Overseas Development Administration has enjoyed in recent years under my noble Friend Baroness Chalker, ably supported by my right hon. Friends.
Much that is positive can be said about the British aid programme, but the Opposition motion singularly fails to say it. That was clear from the contribution of the hon. Member for Monklands, West, who spoke movingly of his experiences in Africa, but failed to deliver any prescription. He was a fine example of high-minded rhetoric without the will to deliver. The Opposition motion fails to say anything positive. That is because the Opposition remain a party of protest. They just want to make a noise : we want to make a difference--and in this vital area I believe that we shall continue to do so.
Column 2877.13 pm
Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North) : I congratulate the Labour party on its selection of this subject for the debate. It seems to have based its choice on the publication of the document entitled "The Reality of Aid" produced by Actionaid. I endorse the analysis in that document and the demands that it makes.
I approach the subject from a very important perspective, which is in danger of being neglected entirely and has been neglected during tonight's debate. A month ago, I attended the high-level segment of the second annual meeting of the Commission for Sustainable Development at the United Nations. It was also attended by the Secretary of State for the Environment and Baroness Chalker. Astonishingly, no statement was made following that meeting about its outcome and there was no debate on it. It is astonishing because, in theory, the CSD should be one of the most important global agencies. This year's meeting was especially important. Even though it has a permanent staff of only just over 20, following the Rio summit, it is charged with the task of leading the world towards sustainable development and, in doing so, of saving the planet from the ecological catastrophe that it is generally agreed may be facing us. One cannot get much more important than that.
It is essential to consider overseas aid in the context of what the CSD is supposed to be doing and is trying to achieve, especially as one of the decisions at this year's meeting, which was emphasised by the United Kingdom delegation in particular, was the need to establish close liaison between the CSD and the Bretton Woods institutions--the World bank and the International Monetary Fund--and the new World Trade Organisation, which has a trade and environment committee, and high time, too.
I strongly support the demand for a White Paper on overseas aid, not least because it is time for us to ask what such aid is intended to achieve. Not long ago, it would have been assumed that the answer to a question like that was that the purpose of aid was to enable the countries of the south-- to use popular shorthand--to emulate the development model of the north and in that way achieve similar patterns and levels of production and consumption. If Rio established one thing, however, it was that that idea is now entirely untenable because the natural environment is incapable of providing for and absorbing the effects of constantly expanding consumption with an expanding world population, which is what we will have for the foreseeable future, whatever policies are pursued. That is a fundamental fact, which we must understand.
Gro Harlem Brundtland put it well at an international symposium on sustainable consumption in January--part of the Rio process--when she said :
"It took all of human history to grow to the 600 billion dollars world economy of the year 1900. Today, the world economy grows by more than this every two years. Each year, economic expansion corresponds to the entire economy of South America. Only a lifetime away, our 14 trillion dollar world economy may have grown fivefold . . . It is simply impossible for the world as a whole to sustain a Western level of consumption for all. In fact, if 7 billion people were to consume as much energy and resources as we do in the West today we would need 10 worlds, not one, to satisfy all our needs." That talk of 10 worlds is based on a statistical calculation of what resources, and capacity to absorb the effects of production and consumption, are required. If we take that seriously--we must take it very seriously indeed
Column 288--it implies an enormously radical change of direction. It implies a turning point in human history and certainly a far- reaching rewriting of economic theory and therefore of ideas about economic development.
There is all the difference in the world between a model of development based on constant economic expansion, which intends to benefit the poor either through the celebrated trickle-down effect, or by some combination of redistributive taxation and income policy, and the model that recognises, as does more and more expert opinion, that there are absolute limits to expansion and that social equity has to be achieved within those limits. All that was recognised at the CSD, which comprises 53 representative nations which this year were represented by their environment Ministers. All the CSD's assumptions are things to which the UK is signed up in declarations and policy statements.
At the CSD, there was a constant repetition of certain fundamental demands. First, we needed new indicators of economic success, as it was recognised that growth rate and GNP are hopelessly inadequate and misleading indicators. Secondly--a revolutionary idea--there is a need to internalise environmental costs so that the real costs of any enterprise in production and consumption are expressed increasingly in prices, and that is particularly relevant to transport. If it were applied to transport, it would transform the pattern of production, distribution and trade, and particularly trade. Thirdly, we must develop economic instruments to encourage development of the sustainable kind. There was a demand for significant changes in taxation patterns, including a far greater emphasis on resource taxation and a reduction in taxation on people and, particularly, on employment.
All this in turn has far-reaching implications for overseas development policies. The countries of the south need to be encouraged and convinced that their new development patterns must be sustainable. That is entirely consistent with the demands of Actionaid, Oxfam, Christian Aid and so on that aid should be focused on poverty reduction, the empowerment of the poor and human development. The organisations are talking about a kind of bottom-up pattern of development, and not the alleviation of poverty through the trickle-down process, which is an entirely discredited theory now.
The southern countries need to be persuaded and convinced of that. However, there is no way in which the countries of the south can be persuaded to for go conventional patterns of growth unless the north and the elites within the southern countries are prepared to modify their current patterns of profligate, unsustainable and conspicuous consumption. That is another fundamental reality. Currently, 25 per cent. of the world's population consume 80 per cent. of the world's resources and produce, for example, 75 per cent. of the world's municipal and industrial wastes.
Those ideas are no longer the domain of a kind of green fringe. They are now part of an emerging consensus on an international level. The ideas are found, for example, in Paleokrassas's chapter in the European White Paper on Growth, Competitiveness and Employment. They can be seen in a recent brilliant essay by Herman Daly, who was, until recently, a senior economist at the World bank. They can be found in the report of the Oslo symposium on sustainable consumption, with its emphasis on reducing transportation and on what is called the proximity principle, which is the very opposite of the law of
Column 289comparative advantage on which the modern theory of trade is based. The proximity principle says that one should produce as near to the market as possible, thus reducing transportation requirements. That changes everything in relation to the GATT agreement.
The agenda is being elaborated now as part of the Rio process in a plethora of seminars and conferences on various aspects of sustainability and in the inter-sessionals of the CSD. It is a painstaking process, especially because of the need to achieve consensus. We should pay tribute to the heroic efforts of Klaus To"fler, the German Environment Minister, in trying to create that consensus. It is a painstaking process, but it is also a race against time. We have an urgent problem. There is conflict between getting it right and the need for urgent action. To"fler put it rather well, saying it is
"better to get things precisely right at a somewhat later date than to get them precisely wrong now".
That is only half the position, and we must get things going quickly as well. There are
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam) : May I first give a word of caution to the Opposition, who seem hell-bent on spending the taxpayer's money on a host of projects, both nationally and internationally ? I draw their attention to the remarks made by the Minister for Overseas Development when she spoke in another place : "No one would thank us for putting ourselves once again in hock to the IMF by such spending as is boasted about by some Members of the Labour Opposition."--[ Official Report, House of Lords , 23 June 1992 ; Vol. 538, c. 431.]
Salutary words of advice indeed.
I shall concentrate my remarks on the phrase in the Government amendment drawing attention to the diversity of agencies which they wish to bring in to help with delivering overseas aid. Among the companies, consultants and non-governmental organisations upon which the British aid programme is heavily dependent is an organisation in my constituency, the Crown Agents.
The House will know that the Crown Agents provide a range of services to the ODA, as they do to other bilateral and multilateral donors. I have seen for myself the excellent work they have been undertaking in Malawi on behalf of the Japanese Government, the European Commission and the World bank. Their considerable logistical expertise and experience have, for the past two years, been providing invaluable assistance in delivering humanitarian aid in Bosnia. The ODA convoy teams managed by the Crown Agents have, for the past two years, quietly established a level of professional competence and excellence in delivering aid safely and reliably to the most desperate people in the world. It is also worth paying tribute to those who have lost their lives on Crown Agents convoys, as regrettably they have been given barely a word of thanks. We should remember them.
The Crown Agents spread their work across the globe, covering more than 130 countries in the developing world. They have a declared and proven commitment to the highest standards of efficiency and integrity and are independent of any commercial interest. I stress one example of a country in which I have seen the Crown Agents, and indeed other agencies, operate--
Column 290Malawi. The lesson which I learnt there particularly was the value of targeting aid accurately and precisely and in Malawi we have certainly seen the benefits of that.
One of the factors that struck me keenly is how effective the international aid community can be when those involved work together. When the atrocious human rights record, which had been continuing for many years in Malawi, reached a point at which it was quite unbearable, the international aid community said that it would withdraw all aid apart from essential humanitarian assistance until it was resolved. The upshot was that elections were held and--to cut a long story short--I was privileged to be an observer at those elections recently.
Malawi is the fifth poorest country in the world. It is a country where life expectancy is only 47, where one child in three dies before the age of five and where only an average of 40 per cent. of the population is literate. In addition, it is one of most densely populated countries in Africa. We have seen what can happen when such countries go wildly out of control, with people fighting for land as in Rwanda.
That lesson of targeting aid really came home to me when we landed at Lilongwe airport, a marvellous edifice which was one of President Banda's prestige projects. It was unacceptable. We drove along a magnificent road into town and yet 20 ft away from the motorway people were hungry, barefoot and living in mud and wattle houses. There was no clean water and disease was constantly in their lives. The essence of survival was always foremost in their minds. When we give aid, we must ensure that it is used in the right way. Perhaps the most classic example that has hit me was provided by a visit to the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Blantyre. As I entered, I saw workmen feverishly putting together a special intensive care unit that had been designed for President Banda, at enormous cost to the country's health budget. Just down the corridor, the hospital's director was rightly outraged. He said, "What can I do ? We are running out of antibiotics and anaesthetics, while money is being spent on that unit."
I am proud to say that the British Government have taken the problem on board and have persuaded the new Malawi Government to divert their efforts away from prestige projects and into rural areas and districts. When I visited a district hospital in a rural area of Chikwawa, I saw the extent to which poverty was affecting medical care. I think it appropriate for the British Government to target assistance on that area.
Education is also important. It is all very well for the education programme to provide university professors, but I think that we should think again about primary education. I welcome the British Government's efforts to encourage the Malawi Government to move away from prestige projects in this regard as well, and to concentrate on primary education in rural areas.
In Malawi, primary education does not mean what it means in this country. Anyone aged between five and 45 can attend primary school there, learning basic literary skills. Without education, it is impossible for any country to develop--or, indeed, to understand how to handle its economy and the importance of family planning. I welcome the Government's efforts to focus particularly on helping women to become more educated and to be more confident about going to school : only when women can take control of their own lives will a successful family planning programme come into effect.
Column 291The problems of Malawi are wide and deep, but it is particularly encouraging that the Malawi people hold Britain in the highest regard. They turn to Britain at every moment of crisis ; and by developing good trade, cultural and political links we are not only helping the Malawi people, but setting up friends for life. 7.32 pm
Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central) : I welcome the opportunity to speak, not least because of the rather mean-minded comments of the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth). What he said flies in the face of the facts, and even contradicts the Minister's observation that the people of Britain feel generous when it comes to aid provision and want it to be increased.
We have heard the figures often enough this evening. We know that current aid spending in this country is 0.28 per cent. of gross national product-- the lowest-ever level--and that, because of the freeze, it will fall to 0.26 per cent. by 1995-96. The United Kingdom will then rank 14th in the Development Assistance Committee's list of 21 OECD members. That is not a record of which the Government should be proud ; perhaps it explains why they never call debates on overseas aid, which have to take place in Opposition time. Earlier this year, the committee reported :
"The United Kingdom has not increased its total aid allocations in an amount corresponding to its increased multilateral commitments, particularly through the EU. There was widespread concern among other DAC Members that this pressure resulting from a lack of growth in aid resources, if continued in a programme as important as the British one, could result in a diminution of the distinctive British contribution to the overall donor effort."
That is quite a damning indictment. Despite the comments of the hon. Member for City of Chester, I am sure that his constituents are not the mean, miserly moaners that he suggested them to be, writing to complain about the level of aid spending. That certainly runs counter to the trend--and I do not refer only to other hon. Members. Although there is considerable poverty in my constituency in Glasgow, people there are generous and feel that the Government should also be generous in helping the developing world. I have never been to Chester, and after what the hon. Gentleman said, I have no intention of going.
Nor does the trend suggested by the hon. Gentleman match the mood of opinion polls. Following the run-up to the general election of April 1992, a Labour politician might not be expected to be a particular exponent of opinion polls. I can tell the House, however, that an opinion poll survey commissioned by the World Development Movement just three weeks ago found that almost one person in two in this country thought that Britain should increase its aid as a percentage of national wealth to meet or top the European average within five years. Incidentally, more than half those polled thought that the peace dividend should be used to increase aid.
Sixty per cent. of respondents said that helping poor people in poor countries should be the most important reason for aid. In a MORI poll carried out for the aid charity War on Want last month, which surveyed 1,900 adults throughout the country, two thirds believed that the United Kingdom's aid spending should be equal to or above the average across Europe. If the calculation
Column 292involves only the 12 member countries of the European Union, that places the figure at 0.45 per cent., 0.17 per cent. above the British level.
May I throw one more statistic at the House ? Fully 67 per cent. of Conservatives who were interviewed wanted aid spending to be at or above the European average--only 4 per cent. fewer than members of the Labour party.
That certainly gives the lie to the theory that charity begins at home. I hope that we can now bury that idea : people want more aid to be given.
Mr. Brandreth rose
Mr. Brandreth : I shall be as brief as I can. My point is that constituents write to me complaining about the amount that we give. The whole point of my meeting the bankers was that they were saying that their customers often felt that they should not be reducing the amount of overseas debt. I was saying that our task was to encourage people to understand the reasons why an even greater commitment to overseas aid is so important. The hon. Gentleman is mischief-making in order to make a debating point on a serious subject.
Mr. Watson : I do not need any lectures on the fact that this is a serious subject. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I have been present throughout the debate. I am treating it seriously and I am not interested in making debating points.
Mr. Brandreth : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When an hon. Member has been in the Chamber since the beginning of a debate, is it in order for another hon. Member to suggest that he has not been ? I have not left the Chamber once, except for 30 seconds.
Mr. Watson : If the hon. Gentleman has been present throughout the debate, I withdraw what I said. But I have used up enough time on this point ; let me simply say that people are more than happy for our aid effort to be increased.
Let me deal with a specific aspect of the aid that we have given in recent years. I refer to the middle east and, in particular, to the question of Palestinian refugees. Recently, I was privileged to visit a number of countries where such refugees are placed. It is the responsibility of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to deliver aid to the refugees. There are 2.7 million of them in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the west bank and Gaza, and UNRWA performs an essential task in delivering education, health care and general welfare to 59 camps in difficult and often dangerous conditions. When I visited those camps--in particular, Shatila and Bourj el -Barajni in Beirut--it was pointed out to me, and to other members of the delegation, that the total UNRWA budget of some £400 million was inadequate to deal with
Column 293the needs of the Palestinians. The British contribution to that total, incidentally, is £6 million in direct aid, but a contribution is also made through the European Union.
In Lebanon, Palestinians do not enjoy citizenship, have no rights to education, are not allowed to work, are stuck in the camps and have no individual rights. I ask the Government to turn their attention to the Palestinians' needs, especially in the Lebanon. When we met UNRWA officials, especially Lionel Brisson, head of the field office in the Lebanon, a number of projects were brought to our attention. Some of them were basic and simply involved rehousing Palestinians, many of whom were made refugees in 1948 and displaced persons following the conflict after the Israeli attacks in 1982 and again in 1986-87. Simple matters such as the construction of internal sewerage systems and clinical laboratories in the camps and the provision of general housing are pressing for those concerned. They specifically asked that I raise this matter, which I am pleased to do. I hope that the Minister will reply because those refugees are in a desperate position and the recent peace negotiations--the Gaza- Jericho accord--mean nothing to them. They have been abandoned, but feel that UNRWA could look after them, if only it had adequate resources to do so.
I also met UNRWA officials when I visited Gaza. Although I have found no hon. Member opposed to the Gaza-Jericho agreement, it can progress no further because of the lack of resources in the municipality in Gaza. I met the Palestinian police and the army general in charge of overall security in Gaza. Of the $5 billion committed there over the next five years to underwrite the accord of September 1993, only $30 million has been delivered. The local administration needed in Gaza cannot be set up and services cannot be provided to the people in what is the most densely populated part of the world. Thus the people are caught in a catch-22 situation : the donor countries will not release the money because there are no accounting or taxation systems, so the money that is spent cannot be accounted for ; yet the Palestinians do not have the money to install those systems and ensure that what they do is transparent. The donor countries seem to be interested only in capital projects, which means that the people of Gaza are stuck and the whole peace process could grind to a halt. That could never have been the intention of the donor countries and those who brokered the historic agreement of last year. UNRWA will act as a conduit for funds if that is how the donor countries are happy to proceed. It is important that the logjam be broken. Civil servants, local government administrators and legal administrators are needed to set up those processes to allow the Palestinians to help themselves. Nobody ever believed that the peace process would grind to a halt because Gaza did not have the resources to do what the agreement allows it to do.
If the British Government will not assist, will they get together with the other donor Governments and ensure that the funds to enable the Palestinians to build their own authority in Gaza and, one hopes, take the peace process a step further are put into place without further delay ? Not to allow that accession, as part of the peace process, to continue will simply play into the hands of the extremists, which could bring the whole process to a grinding halt. That would be tragic not just for the Palestinians but for those countries that have so patiently and meticulously brought the peace negotiations to their present position.