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Social Summit, Geneva

12.28 pm

Mr. Tony Colman (Putney): I declare an interest. I chaired the Low Pay Unit from 1988 to 1998, I am trustee of the Daycare Trust, and I am parliamentary representative on the executive committee of UNED-UK, for which I was nominated by Globe UK, of which I am the vice-chair.

I thank Madam Speaker for allowing this Adjournment debate on the conclusions of the UN social summit, the 24th special session of the General Assembly, entitled "World Summit for Social Development and Beyond: achieving social development for all in a globalising world", which was held in Geneva in June. It is a plus five UN conference, following the pattern of the UN subject-specific conferences that followed the Rio conference of 1992 on development and the environment.

The first social summit was held in Copenhagen in 1995 and I was present as a delegate representing local government. In 2000, I was a non-governmental organisation delegate on the UNED-UK delegation. I was pleased to discover that the Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities, the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Ms Jowell), was leading the Government delegation. The summit looked back on what had been achieved in social development over the past five years, as well as looking forward to the UN development targets for 2015. The Minister laid a well-received emphasis on UK domestic policies in her address to the plenary session. It was an example of a developed country reporting on what it had done to deal with poverty rather than lecturing developing countries on what they must do. I am proud of our policies on the new deal, child care, the working families tax credit, the minimum wage, and so on. In contrast, Baroness Chalker, the leader of the delegation in 1995, completely ignored the subject of poverty in the UK.

The UK national report, dated December 1999 and presented to a UNED-UK conference in March 2000, has been widely welcomed, especially as a statement of intent. I particularly commend to hon. Members the social indicators in annexe 1. Will the Minister tell me when the first statistical series will be published to measure progress and the House given a chance to debate them? The only criticism of the report is that civil society in the UK was not involved in the analysis or conclusions before its publication. If the Government are almost to prescribe that civil society be involved in developing countries' Governments' reports on progress on social development, it is important that the Government should operate in the same way in the UK. I am always told that third-party endorsement is much the best.

The conference was attended by more than 7,000 people and some 160 Governments were represented. The UK report stood up well in comparison with progress elsewhere. The summit called for, among other things, the number of persons living in extreme poverty to be halved by 2015; the achievement of free, universal primary education by 2015; the avoidance of unilateral measures affecting the health and well-being of women and children, and greater steps to ease the debt burdens

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of developing countries. In opening the special session, Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for an end to extreme squalor, which he said was

Plainly, improvement since 1995 has been slight. The Oxfam report "Missing the target: the price of empty promises", available on its website, clearly sets out the failure of the international community. Controversially, at the beginning of the conference, a review document, "2000: A Better World for All", was jointly published by the UN, the World Bank, the IMF and the OECD. It was controversial because many non-governmental organisations felt that the UN should not be so directly associated with the other institutions. I disagree; the UN needs to ensure that those institutions works with it and are tied into the UN agenda. Furthermore, the factual analysis, which was not challenged by the NGOs, showed that while significant improvements are taking place elsewhere, many countries in Africa need special help--a message that was reiterated in the conference outcomes.

The document, "Voices of the Poor: Crying Out for Change", which was launched at the conference, was badged as being by the World Bank, but is in fact a co-production with the Department for International Development. It is a part of a series that started with "Can Anyone Hear Us?", published at the beginning of the year, and will end with "From Many Lands", which will be published at the end of the year. In the series, a poor man from Adaboya in Ghana is quoted as saying

In a lengthy final document, the summit reflected concerns that had come to light or assumed greater prominence since the 1995 social summit in Copenhagen. In reaction to the Asian financial crisis, measures were recommended to assist in warning about, preventing and mitigating the effects of sudden international financial flows. Steps were called for to help countries in transition to market economies preserve and enhance basic social services and link up with global markets.

The final document, completed after the session was prolonged into a Saturday meeting, urged the reallocation of resources from excessive military expenditures to social programmes in response to the debt problems of middle-income developing countries. It also urged efforts to refrain from using food and medicine as tools for political pressure.

The conclusions in the outcomes document run to nearly 100 pages. I cannot discuss all the points, but they are on the website, which is The document consists of three parts. Part one contains a ringing political declaration on the centrality of more equitable, socially just and people-centred societies. Part two is an update on the five years since Copenhagen, and part three contains 160 paragraphs on new initiatives in the 10 Copenhagen commitments.

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The 10 commitments were to create an enabling environment for social development; to eradicate poverty; to promote full employment; to promote social integration; to promote full respect for human dignity and ensure that equity and equality are fulfilled; to provide education and access to primary health care for all; to accelerate development within Africa and the least developed countries; to ensure structural adjustment programmes to include social development goals; to increase resources; and to promote co-operation to deliver social development. I have paraphrased what is said more eloquently in the outcomes document.

What does the Minister think about the new initiatives? Commitment one is to enhance partnerships with business, trade unions and civil society at a national level in support of the goals of the summit. How do the Government plan to enhance such partnerships? Commitment three is to promote the goal of full employment. I am pleased that the Minister, who was present at the conference, announced that the Government will support the convening of a world employment forum by the International Labour Organisation in 2001, and that they have now ratified all the core ILO conventions, including ILO convention 182 on banning the worst forms of child labour. Well done. Can that be publicised, especially in terms of the ethical trading initiative? I have read nothing of it in the press. While I deplore overspinning, the matter has been underspun.

Commitment four is to promote social integration. Will the Government

Can it be a basic rule for all United Nations conferences that standard invitations go to business, trade unions and non-governmental organisations, which then nominate at least one representative to the delegation? This time, the UK delegation had none. Having said that, I thank the officials and the Minister for the courtesy that they extended to the representatives of NGOs who separately attended the conference.

Commitment five concerns equality and equity between women and men, and it reiterates a call for the gender mainstreaming of all social development policies. That has recently been dealt with in detail at the five-year review of the World Conference on Women, Beijing plus five, which was held in June. The document also calls on Governments to

Commitment six concerns education for all. Following the World Education Forum in Dakar, do the Government commit to their part in the $8 billion

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additional support for increased development assistance and debt relief for education and health care for all? A successful side meeting of the World Trade Organisation on intellectual property rights took place at the same time as the social summit. What actions do the Government intend on public-private partnerships to invest in research aimed at finding affordable remedies for diseases that especially afflict people in developing countries? That is a new commitment over and above that relating to HIV/AIDS.

In relation to commitment seven to accelerate development in Africa and the least developed countries, will the Government comment on the commitment to raise Overseas Development Administration funding from 0.15 per cent. to 0.2 per cent. of GNP for those countries? It was good that Ireland promised to be the sixth country to reach the overall UN aid target of 0.7 per cent. of GNP, and announced an immediate increase in order to reach that goal. I hope that the Government's comprehensive spending review will show similar commitment. It is equally important to ensure that ODA funding goes to the least developed countries. How are we measuring up to the 0.2 per cent. target for least developed countries? Are the Government working on the 20:20 initiative, in co-operation with civil society, to ensure access to basic social services for all in the countries of the world? I do not expect the Minister to have answers to all of those questions available now, but I look forward to his written replies.

Commitment nine would significantly increase the resources allocated to social development. I would like the Minister to respond in relation to that today. He may have a copy of my letter to the Financial Times of 6 July and my early-day motion 920 on 3 July, in which I celebrated moves at the summit to investigate the Tobin tax. The alternative social summit, which was held by NGOs the week before, concentrated on debt relief and the Tobin tax. Adjournment debates on the matter have been held in this Chamber this year, and parliamentarians all over the world are supporting the investigation of a Tobin tax.

The Canadian delegation took the lead at the summit by tabling a call for such an investigation, while the EU delegation, including the UK, supported it. Paragraph 111 emerged at the end of the negotiations. It states that the Governments agree to conduct

Clearly, that could be the start of more effective global public management of the international financial system. Given that the UK, through the EU, supported an investigation of the currency transfer tax, what does the Minister believe is the first step in such an investigation? What do the Government intend to do?

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Will they work with the EU on proposals for the high-level intergovernmental event on financing for development, which will be held in 2001? Could a paper be tabled before Parliament before that event to enable a full parliamentary debate to take place? Do the Government intend to consult with financial institutions and academics--and NGOs, especially the Association pour la Taxation des Transactions Financieres pour l'Aide aux Citoyens and War on Want--on the advantages, disadvantages and other implications of a Tobin tax?

The Government may want to comment on other proposals under commitment nine--international co-operation in tax matters; methods for dividing the liability of multinational corporations to pay taxes on profits among the various jurisdictions in which they operate; ways to combat the use of tax shelters and tax havens; mechanisms to stabilise commodity export earnings; ways to prevent tax avoidance and promoting treaties for avoiding double taxation; exploring ways and means to increase and widen flows of public and private financial resources to developing countries; and, promoting the micro and small enterprise sector. Another crucial mechanism is, of course, the heavily indebted poor countries initiative, as well as achieving the important goal of allocating 0.7 per cent. of GDP to the ODA.

I have dealt with new sources of finance at length because developing countries feel betrayed in that regard. Few countries have equalled the UK Government's real terms increase of 29 per cent. in ODA funding since 1997. Neither debt relief, aid nor trade is enough. A global taxation arrangement is necessary to provide the resources that will ensure that poverty is eradicated around the globe.

Commitment 10, which deals with promoting a partnership framework for delivering social development, lacks clarity on the way forward. Can the Minister tell us about any proposals tabled at the Economic and Social Committee of the European Union for following up this summit and the other plus five summits? The summits need to be drawn together, at least to ensure co-ordination of resources for agreed targets. The social summit covered the full range of world interests, with the exception of the environment. Does the Minister consider that there is a case ahead of Rio plus 10 and the 2002 summit for bringing together the Commissions on Social Development and Sustainable Development, so that their yearly focus is together rather than separate?

The outcome under paragraph 126 of the document is to

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12.45 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Peter Hain ): My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) is an excellent parliamentarian. I know that, because he is my Member of Parliament. I thank him for providing me with the opportunity to discuss the follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development. I welcome the special expertise that he has brought to the debate and the energetic way in which he is following matters through, which is extremely helpful to both the House and the Government. He has identified the importance of such issues.

As the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is the lead Department in the process, I have pleasure in replying to the debate. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities addressed last month's special session of the UN General Assembly entitled "The World Summit for Social Development and Beyond: achieving social development for all in a globalising world". She emphasised the Government's determination to ensure that the wealth and opportunities created by globalisation are used to reduce global poverty.

Before turning to some of my hon. Friend's specific informed questions, I shall comment on the Copenhagen process more generally. The declaration and programme of action agreed at the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995 provided a clear framework for all countries to develop policies to promote social justice and to combat poverty. For the first time, agreement was reached on the importance of economic and social policies being mutually reinforcing. Economic growth, opportunity and fairness go hand in hand. An economy in which a significant proportion of the population is unable to fulfil its potential will be poorer and less productive. Stable and sustainable pro-poor economic growth and sound social policy are crucial in combating poverty.

We have worked hard to promote economic growth and social justice, both at home and overseas, in line with the commitments made in Copenhagen. Our ambition is for everyone in all countries to have the opportunity to make a contribution, to work, to learn, to enjoy the benefits of economic prosperity and to participate in community life. Although British society is rich in its diversity, not all of our citizens have always had the opportunity to maximise their potential and contribute to society. Economic growth, together with effective policies to help people into work, make work pay and raise skills through lifelong learning, have formed the basis of the Government's strategy to further social development at home.

Last September, in a document "Opportunity for All", we committed ourselves to increasing opportunity, tackling the root causes of poverty and investing in

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individuals and communities. We also identified a range of indicators against which progress could be monitored on income, employment, education, health, housing, pension provision and fear of crime. Our strategy is producing encouraging results. The number of those in employment has increased by more than 900,000 since the general election and long-term unemployment has been cut by half since May 1997. The proportion of children in workless households has fallen from 20 per cent. in spring 1994 to 17.6 per cent. in spring 1999. Furthermore, budget measures will lift 1.2 million children out of poverty by next year.

The Government have also demonstrated their commitment to promoting the goal of full employment agreed in Copenhagen five years ago. Our approach can be summarised as, "Work for those who can, security for those who cannot." Our policies and initiatives were designed to move people from dependence to independence. The new deal programme is the United Kingdom's largest ever investment in work. At its heart lies the simple proposition that the vast majority of workless people have the potential to earn their own living but, in the early days of going back to work or becoming self-employed, both employee and employer need positive help. The acquisition of new skills is essential for preventing poverty and social exclusion. For those out of work, the new deal provides access to a wider range of job opportunities and a route back to employment; for those in work, it provides a way of meeting changing job demands, finding greater job security and improving incomes.

The achievements of the new deal have been impressive. It provides intensive and substantial support for young people, the long-term unemployed, lone parents, people with disabilities, older workers and partners of unemployed people. Unemployment is much lower as a result of the new deal and employment is at record levels, with 27.78 million people now in work in the United Kingdom. That figure represents 74.3 per cent. of the working age population.

The Government have a legislative framework to promote social inclusion and increased opportunity for all. The Human Rights Act 1998 incorporates fundamental rights and freedoms in the European convention on human rights into United Kingdom law. That safeguards our basic liberties in law as enforceable rights and will help build a culture of respect for rights and responsibilities throughout the country. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced new statutory offences for racist crime and placed a new statutory responsibility on local authorities and the police to reduce crime and disorder. Those Acts, and part IV of the Family Law Act 1996, are also important in strengthening measures to prevent violence against women.

In our international development work, to which my hon. Friend referred, the eradication of poverty forms our central goal. There is no doubt that enormous advances in poverty reduction are possible over the next few decades. There are still massive obstacles to overcome but, with increased political will across Governments and civil society worldwide, the target of reducing by half the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015 can be met.

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The Government recognise that progress depends, first and foremost, on the efforts of developing countries themselves, but they can only succeed if the international community provides effective support. We have worked hard to mobilise the international community into purposeful, meaningful action, not least by continuing to push for debt relief focused on poverty reduction in heavily indebted poor countries. We are also working for a more collaborative and harmonised approach among donors, coupled with genuine ownership of the process by recipient countries.

Britain is committed to working for the worldwide observance of labour standards to uplift the poorest members of society. In June 1998, member states of the ILO unanimously adopted a declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work, which covers freedom of association, collective bargaining, the elimination of discrimination and the abolition of forced and child labour. By adopting the ILO declaration, countries reaffirm their obligations to respect, promote and realise those principles.

As I have outlined, Britain has made substantial progress in furthering social development at national and international level since the world summit five years ago. The aim of those gathered in Geneva last month was not merely to assess the progress made in meeting the Copenhagen commitments; Governments agreed that it was important to identify new initiatives that take account of developments over the past five years and enable a more effective implementation of the Copenhagen declaration and programme of action, as my hon. Friend has called for.

In her statement to the UN General Assembly, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities emphasised that a key objective for Britain at the special session was the need to define principles to underpin social policy. National ownership is crucial for the development of any effective social policy, and it is imperative to take full account of regional and national differences. For that reason, the United Nations is uniquely placed to lead an exploration of the key aspects of social policy that are essential for economic development.

I am pleased to inform the House that agreement was reached in Geneva that the UN's commission for social development should set in hand an exchange of experience and best practices involving the UN itself, its specialised agencies and the international financial institutions. We look forward to seeing the results of that exercise, initiated by the United Kingdom, in the months to come. The special session to follow up the world summit for social development also reached consensus on several other new initiatives to enhance implementation of the Copenhagen commitment. UN member states reiterated their commitment to the target of reducing by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, and committed themselves to a target date of 2015.

In Geneva last month, UN member states also reached agreement on a strong reference to ratification of the core ILO conventions, which are essential instruments for protecting workers' rights, increasing social dialogue and ensuring respect for individuals. The General Assembly recognised the important part that

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businesses play in social development, and the need to encourage the private sector, as well as the public sector, to exercise its social responsibilities.

My hon. Friend asked several interesting questions, to which the Government will provide written responses in due course, and I shall arrange for those responses to be placed in the Library of the House of Commons. However, I shall deal with four of his points now. He mentioned a currency transaction, or Tobin, tax. I have seen his early-day motion, 920, and his letter to the Financial Times. The special session agreed to analyse proposals for developing new and innovative sources of funding for social development, and one of those proposals is likely to be a tax on international currency transactions.

The Government believe that a so-called Tobin tax could have several serious drawbacks. In particular, it might introduce economic distortions into the international financial system, and it is unlikely to be effective in a crisis. It would also be practically impossible to achieve global coverage, and there would be huge scope for avoidance. Unless those drawbacks can be overcome, a tax on currency transactions will not be a viable source of funds for social development. Nevertheless, it is an important proposal, and the Government will be interested to see the results of an analysis of such proposals in the months ahead.

Mr. Colman : As London is the world financial centre, rather than waiting for conclusions, might the Government be willing to take the initiative for such an investigation, examining both disadvantages and advantages, much as we have led on the HIPC initiative?

Mr. Hain : I shall obviously consult ministerial colleagues who have direct responsibility for the matter, and I shall ensure that my hon. Friend's request is brought to their attention. We recognise that the issue must be examined carefully to ascertain the progress that can be made. I welcome the energy that he has contributed to the debate.

I agree with my hon. Friend about the crucial importance of international action on HIV/AIDS. The special session defined more clearly the contribution of

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health to social development, and identified the fight against HIV/AIDS and other major pandemics as central priorities for action in Africa and the least developed world. An appeal has been made to the private sector to develop medicines at affordable prices for the worst affected developing countries. A notable advance in that respect is the special session's recognition of the importance of supporting exemptions to intellectual property rights, giving due regard to international laws and agreements, in order to promote access to essential medicines that can save lives.

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend about the need to ensure better co-ordination of follow-up processes to global conferences in the 1990s. The UK, with our EU partners, is working towards that end during the current session of the UN's Economic and Social Council.

I acknowledge the valuable role played by my hon. Friend and members of the private sector and civil society in Britain through participation in the international symposium organised by the Swiss Government and exchanges with the British delegation before and during the Geneva meeting. We were offered valuable support, direction and encouragement in the negotiating process. We must now continue to work together to ensure that the commitments made in Copenhagen and renewed and developed in Geneva are pursued with vigour in the years ahead. Only then can we genuinely claim to have achieved the goal of social development for all in a globalising world.

I note the points that my hon. Friend firmly and legitimately made about participation of NGOs in Government delegations. We shall examine carefully the composition of future delegations, because we as a Government are more open to NGOs and civil society in general than any of our predecessors. We have, for example, NGO secondees working in the Foreign Office, and our own staff have been seconded to work in several NGOs that have Foreign Office interests. We want an open-door policy towards NGOs, and we shall consult on exactly how that can be accommodated in the context of international conferences and the composition of delegations. Regardless of the final outcome, I give a commitment to consultation with NGOs.

It being One o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the sitting lapsed, without Question put.

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