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11.43 am

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East): I congratulate the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) on her success in the ballot and on the excellent points that she made in her speech, many of which I strongly support. I shall say more about that later, but first I shall comment on the speech by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), whose call for higher business standards I support.

Listening to the hon. Gentleman, my mind went back several years to the time when I was at Harvard business school, where the professors are regularly assessed by the

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students. Year after year, the professor who came top was Professor Roland Christenson, who lectured on business policy and delivered to his students the strong message that there was no problem in the world greater than the fact that hundreds of millions of people did not get enough to eat and that millions of children died every year. The hon. Member for Rotherham was right to draw attention to that.

The other problems that the hon. Gentleman addressed, such as child labour, are serious too, but the fact that children are dying is the greatest issue of all. Clearly we want children to be properly educated rather than used as cheap labour, but even being used as cheap labour is better than dying.

The hon. Member for Congleton spoke strongly about the role of voluntary agencies, and I support what she said. In Bolton, there are strong supporters of the World Development Movement, Save the Children and Oxfam. I believe that such agencies play an important part, and that, as the hon. Lady said, Britain leads the world in that respect. I spent much of my childhood in India. Other members of my family have spent time in Africa, and are now in India again--no doubt concerned with the work of voluntary agencies there.

The hon. Lady spoke about tying together aid and trade, and said that it was better for workers to be in Land Rovers rather than in Mercedes-Benz. There is sometimes a problem when aid workers are seen to be enjoying a standard of living far above that of the people whom they are supposed to be helping. Sometimes they live in luxury hotels and drive luxury cars, but it would be better if they were closer to the people they help, and drove vehicles not so different from those used by the indigenous population.

The hon. Lady drew attention to the summits in Rome, Istanbul and Cairo, and then talked about abortion, especially in China. I shall pick up some of her points. Some years ago, I saw the work done in Hong Kong by the Home of Loving Faithfulness in providing adoptive homes for severely handicapped Chinese babies. The Chinese have no tradition of adopting children, and there is a role for this country to play.

I ask the Minister to pay attention to the need to improve the process of inter-country adoption. I am sorry that in the Queen's Speech the Government failed to announce their Bill on adoption. I do not know whether there will be an opportunity for them to introduce it over the next few months, but as they produced a draft Bill on which there was a long consultation period, it is unfortunate that the legislation cannot now be introduced. Measures such as the ratification of the Hague proposals should be properly addressed by the House. Then we could be happy in the knowledge that this country could play its full role.

We are aware of all the problems in China. At the beginning of her speech, the hon. Member for Congleton said that she preferred a stronger emphasis on bilateral than on multilateral aid. In general, I would support that idea, but in China there are difficulties in knowing how, in such a coercive regime, to become involved with proper family planning. I am sure that the hon. Lady agrees that

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in that case it is as well to work on a multilateral as on a bilateral basis.

Mrs. Ann Winterton: I am sure that on that topic the hon. Gentleman will join me in deploring the fact that the British taxpayer's money is used, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, to support coercive abortion in China. That policy cannot be supported by any civilised person.

Mr. Thurnham: I do not believe that I can agree with the hon. Lady. Last month, I received a letter on that very subject from the Minister for Overseas Development. It said:

I certainly support the Government in their work on that front, and I do not believe that what the hon. Lady suggested happens.

I want to draw attention to the difficulties that British couples face in trying to adopt children from abroad. There have been a number of recent newspaper articles--The Sunday Telegraph carried one earlier this year--on adopting children from China. There were also articles in The Sunday Times in June last year and The Times in October last year. They pointed out that approximately one Chinese baby is adopted each week by a British couple. Given that, the Government can help to bring about a better future for some of the unfortunate children in China. All the children are girls and we know that they can indeed be left in the infamous dying rooms because of policies in China.

Britain is almost unique among most of the developed countries in not having a central agency that can help to provide a smoother process of inter-country adoption. The couples who have written to me, and whose stories have been referred to in the papers, have described the great difficulties of the process of adopting a baby from China. China insists on dealing with a central agency here. There is no central agency here, although the Department of Health has an overall co-ordinating role.

Local authorities are required to approve the adoption, and some couples have had to move to get a local authority to approve their adoption of a child from China. A couple in Fulham had to move to East Sussex. Couples elsewhere, such as Staffordshire, were told that, because of the policy of the council where they lived, there was no chance of their being able to adopt a baby from China. I find that totally repugnant, and hope that the Government will give attention to the matter by bringing forward the Bill on adoption, so that the issue can be properly addressed and an inter-country adoption agency can be set up in this country to provide for such adoption.

I reiterate my support for a number of the points made by the hon. Member for Congleton. Difficult issues concern tied aid and trade. I agree with her that, in an ideal world, none of the countries would attempt to tie aid to trade. When some countries do, we in this country can clearly feel at risk by not doing so as well. On balance, the less we tie aid to trade, the better. We should certainly target our aid to those who are in the greatest need, which includes the unfortunate children in the orphanages in

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China. We should do our best to cut out waste and corruption and insist on very high standards in our overseas aid.

11.51 am

Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central): I, too, congratulate the hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) on securing this debate, which concerns a very important topic. She may be as surprised as I was when I heard her speech to hear that I agreed with very much of it. Indeed, I agreed with most of what she said about the current position of aid. I am not at all happy about the reduction in aid that has taken place and, of course, continues to take place.

The hon. Member for Congleton referred to the reduction in the context of the country's economy. It may well be that, until the economy begins to turn around, it will be difficult to envisage the aid figure increasing. Fortunately, there is a real prospect of the economy improving dramatically in the next two or three years following a change of Government, and for that reason, Labour is very clear about what it would do through overseas aid. We would use much of what is generated by an improved economy to enhance the aid budget.

The importance that the Labour party places on overseas development aid is shown in a document that was recently published, which clearly states that a Labour Government would resort to the position on aid held between 1976 and 1979, when there was a Department responsible for overseas development aid. A department of international development will enhance not only the quality of aid but the importance given to it as a central part of a Labour Government's programme.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), who will be a member of that Government and--I hope--hold the office that he shadows, will be in a strong position to put into practice many such policies, not least what has been termed the 20-20 Compact, which is very important and emerged from the Copenhagen social summit last year. Under it, 20 per cent. of aid provided by donors goes to basic services in return for a commitment that the recipient countries spend 20 per cent. of their gross national product on the same sort of basic services. That is very important to beginning to turn around the effectiveness of aid and ensuring, as the hon. Member for Congleton said, that the poorest people benefit. I certainly support her in that view.

I should like to mention one part of the speech of the hon. Member for Congleton with which I did not agree. I find it rather unfortunate, although not surprising, that she returned to the issue of reproductive rights and what she terms "abortion on demand" as part of aid policies. Such a term is an exaggeration and a distortion of the purpose of aid for women's sexual and reproductive health, which must be at the core of any serious policy that hopes to deal with poverty. The hon. Lady mentioned self-help. I thoroughly agree with that concept, but she mentioned it with regard to women's rights as if in some way such self-help was being discouraged through the policies that are being advanced. She used some rather emotive language, as she has in the past.

In preparing for this debate, I dug out the comments of the hon. Member for Congleton during a similar debate four months ago, in which she accused me by implication

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of having blood on my hands as a result of being an office bearer of the all-party population, reproductive health and development group. If she does not remember that, I am sure that the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who is the chairman of that group--I am its treasurer--and who was the butt of her remarks, does remember it. She made an extremely offensive allegation, and I hope that she will take this opportunity to withdraw it. The accusation was wide-ranging and referred to the hon. Gentleman's friends, of whom, in the context of the group, I am certainly one.

The hon. Member for Congleton has, unfortunately, peddled many untruths in respect of the aim of aid and aid programmes. In doing so, she has undermined the efforts of many organisations that do sterling work in the field, such as Marie Stopes International, Save the Children and Oxfam. They have communicated to me that they are stumped by some of the comments that have been made.

Some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Congleton about the United Nations fall into a similar context. She has often vilified the UN for what she terms coercion in reproductive rights and various aspects of it, yet she refuses to acknowledge that its population fund specifically outlaws any form of coercion in its programmes. Its projects require adherence to human rights and insist on approaches to service delivery that are grounded in informed consent, free choice and quality care. There is no evidence to the contrary. The same is true of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, whose constitution says:

There is no evidence to the contrary.

In July, the hon. Member for Congleton also criticised Baroness Chalker and the Overseas Development Administration itself for its policies and the way in which they are delivered. Such criticism is most unfair. On 11 July 1994, Baroness Chalker said:

Such comments are wrapped up in the debate on what is happening in China. I am well aware of the horror stories that have emerged from that country, and I am sure that many of them are true. I am not in any sense apologising for what happens in China, but we must understand that China has--I believe--21 per cent. of the world's population, but less than 10 per cent. of land that can be cultivated to feed its population. Something must be done to address China's population growth. Although I am not in any way suggesting that the policy of restricting families to one child or the way in which it is policed is justified, we need a little more objectivity in our approach to such issues.

The hon. Member for Congleton also talked about the manipulation of the agendas of some of the major world conferences that take place from time to time, and she specifically mentioned the one in Cairo. Again, her remarks were unfortunate. Much of what emerged from Cairo has, unfortunately, been distorted. It is unfortunate to talk of those outcomes in terms of birth control or abortion. Those of us involved in issues relating to reproductive rights do not use the term "birth control". The issue is not about controlling but about assisting people through self-help initiatives, to which I referred

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earlier, so that informed choices can be made. It is a matter of allowing people to be in a position to choose for themselves.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) said, the best antidote to overpopulation is a growing economy, but that is an extremely long-term prospect for many countries in the developing world that are burdened with debt; for example, the Ugandan economy is growing at 5, 6 or 7 per cent. a year, which is favourable progress, but it is pulled back by the debt that it has to service. Many countries will not have strong economies in my lifetime, so shorter-term population measures will have to be considered.

It was disingenuous of the hon. Member for Congleton to talk of the Muslim community; I do not know what that means, as there is no such thing as the Christian community. In the aftermath of the Cairo conference, Benazir Bhutto, the hapless ex-Prime Minister of Pakistan, said that it was the lack of adequate services, not ideology, that confronted us in population stabilisation. The way in which Islam is marshalled in an attempt to support the arguments of the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends is unfortunate, as the Koran is clear on the right of women to choose.

I ask for more clarity and more understanding of the position of those of us who have a general interest in aid and who consider reproductive health a central issue. It has been helpful to have this debate and, notwithstanding my criticisms of the hon. Member for Congleton, I hope that our discussions will inform future debates on the subject.

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