15 Nov 2000 : Column 185WH

Westminster Hall

Wednesday 15 November 2000

[Sir Alan Haselhurst in the Chair]

Developed and Developing Countries

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.--[Mrs. McGuire.]

9.30 am

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): Like any other Member of Parliament, I know many men and women who work hard, behave responsibly and look after their families as best they can. They rate their success in life by how much they earn and, perhaps, by how much better off financially they are than their parents were at the same stage of life. Occasionally they pause for a moment, often while waiting for their commuter train or as they interrupt their Sunday evening to take yet another overseas call, and wonder whether that is all that there is to life. It is not a thought that many of them feel that they can indulge for long, and soon they are back in routine, wishing that they had a little more time to spend with their children or to care for their ageing relatives. They would be horrified to be thought selfish or greedy. Indeed, most of them feel that they are much less well off than many of their contemporaries or colleagues, and wish that they could earn a little more.

What is true of so many individuals is, in an important sense, true of countries as well. In the developed world, the industrialised countries compete furiously among themselves to win a higher national income year on year. They squabble and negotiate to ensure that they do not lose out in trade deals, or that they are not outsmarted by one of their competitors. Their politicians solemnly recite figures showing more income, higher debt repayments, more exports, more imports, more exam passes, and life expectancy being extended beyond the imaginings of earlier generations, even if the prolongation is often miserably beyond any conviviality as well.

For nearly all hon. Members, the parameters of debate are given. Our job is to see how capable our opponents are to deliver those things and to try to show that we would deliver them better. I do not believe that that is enough. The time has come for our nation to pause and ask itself where it is going and whether its current destination will bring us satisfaction. The time has also come for us to ask ourselves whether our pursuit of goals and the way in which we pursue them is justifiable in this world, almost every corner of which is better known to us than, for example, Cornwall would have been to someone growing up in Newcastle or Glasgow 100 years ago.

I have chosen only one small part of that big, philosophical debate for today. Within the scope of my title, I intend to concentrate on children. They are not only our future, but the most vulnerable part of the world's population. In many parts of the world, they are also the most numerous sector of the population. It is also appropriate, as there is to be a world summit for children in New York in September 2001.

15 Nov 2000 : Column 186WH

It is not as though all is well with children in the United Kingdom. I shall take a few figures at random, and point out that 900,000 children live with parents who have problems with alcohol, and that 11,000 are in penal institutions, more than anywhere else in western Europe except Portugal. We also have the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe. On the Townsend measure of relative poverty, 4 million children are deemed poor.

Those statistics shame us in Britain, but they almost pale into insignificance against those on children elsewhere. UNICEF reckons that, worldwide, no fewer than 1.2 billion children--one in five--live in poverty. That is a larger number than 10 years ago. I shall provide two more statistics. Every day, 8,500 children and young people become infected with HIV-AIDS. That is a quarter of a million a month. In 1996-97, donor countries gave $350 million to the fight against the epidemic. UNICEF suggests that in that same year they gave $60 billion to keep South Korea afloat financially. What is our contribution, apart from our share of the $350 million? It is to send teams to the worst hit countries to recruit the best of their doctors and nurses because we have signally failed to predict our national needs for such staff.

It is estimated that in 10 years more than 8 million children have been killed or disabled by war. What is Britain's contribution? It is to be the world's second largest arms dealer, in a business in which everyone agrees that it is almost impossible to control the end use of arms, no matter how carefully the first user is vetted.

In the UK, there has been sporadic debate about the propriety of children delivering newspapers before they go to school. For at least 250 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 elsewhere in the world, the debate is a little different. For them the issue is not pocket money to spend on CDs and fast food, but rather whether, at great risk to their health and their schooling, they can turn out enough work to keep their brothers and sisters from starving to death. The fact that for most of them such toil means that they are never in school is a tragedy both now and for the rest of their lives. The future for an adult with no education looks increasingly bleak.

Listen for a moment to the voices of some Zimbabwe's farm children, living on some of the most prosperous enterprises in that country. One of them wrote:


I am not trying to say that the UK is doing nothing about such disparities. Indeed, the Department for International Development is working hard to improve both the scale and the effectiveness of UK development

15 Nov 2000 : Column 187WH

aid. The Department needs to become more transparent, readier to learn from other organisations and readier to welcome and learn from complaints. However, as a new Department, it deserves to be congratulated on its progress so far. This is not a partisan occasion. A bipartisan approach is needed if we are to secure our objective. This debate is an appeal for the nation to look seriously at its own goals and ambitions and to ask itself whether they are sufficient in a world so full of human misery.

It is tempting to say that if we go on getting richer, we shall be able to do more for the poor. However, experience disproves that. Between 1992 and 1997, overseas development aid declined among the leading industrialised countries by 30 per cent., at a time when most of them were doing better than they ever had done in their history. The Government have done well to arrest the decline in overseas aid, but the truth is that, even after their welcome increase in generosity, we are spending only approximately 0.3 per cent. of our national income on aid. Yet we boast that we have the fourth largest economy in the world. What destroyed the World Trade Organisation talks in Seattle? Primarily, it was the reluctance of the richest countries on earth to make their markets available to the pathetically small output of the least developed countries. Trickledown? Pull the other one. The truth is that the rich nations, just like the rich individuals who make their policies, are spending more on preserving what they already have than on sharing it with those who have less.

We need to do a lot more, not merely to increase the sums available, but to change our perception of ourselves, our place in the world and the rights and hopes of our fellow world citizens. The insularity and triviality of so much of our media coverage of the world must change. What a Spice Girl wears, or rather does not wear, drives off the front pages anything other than the most lurid kind of disaster, and those images of disaster do not help to increase understanding and real sympathy. A change is needed in the perception of every family in the land.

If we are to secure that change, we must start with our children. I welcome the extra resources being spent by DFID on development education, but we can and should do much more. Young children have an inherent sense of justice. If they are given the information about how much more they have than other children they will want to do something about it, but only if they are given real opportunities to make a difference. That is where political leadership comes in. If they sat down and worked out how to do it, the Government could help schools and families to develop effective partnerships across the world for changing the lives of children elsewhere.

After all, if Nigeria, with all its troubles, can run an effective youth corps to serve its poor and, by sending young people to provinces other than their native province, is breaking down the tribal concentrations, we could surely do the same to serve the children of the Commonwealth. I have a friend who goes every year with his wife to a country in sub-Saharan Africa. They are part of a small group of British teachers who spend part of their precious summer holidays raising the

15 Nov 2000 : Column 188WH

standards of teachers in other parts of the world. That could be extended by Government assistance. They would not have to be current teachers who exhaust themselves during the term: I am sure that newly retired teachers would be of equal value.

At the primary school end of the age range, it should be possible to spark the latent sense of justice in small children by telling them that, as UNICEF believes, the goal of universal primary school education could be reached by 2010 if we spent $7 billion a year. How much? Oh, just what the United States of America spends annually on cosmetics or what the countries of the European Union spend on ice cream. How many school children in Africa could be assisted if every school in the United Kingdom went without ice cream for a week?

I know this all sounds idealistic, but it is also self-interested. If we do only the little that we do now for the poor of the world, and if we continue to believe that we can make a difference without it costing us anything from our own pampered life styles, our children will inherit the whirlwind. Already in Sierra Leone, Sudan, Rwanda and countless other countries, orphaned or abandoned children are learning that the only way to survive is to rob others, preferably with a gun. The instability of the middle east is fuelled by the poverty and frustration of children and young people who have nothing more to lose. The same is true in a growing proportion of the world. Just as in the UK we are seeing the first purpose-built estates with high walls and electronic fences to keep out those who have less, so across the world increasing riches are being spent to protect those riches, rather than to enhance the dignity and profit that could come from the talents of millions of children who need our love, not our police, and our generosity rather than our greed.

9.44 am

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) on introducing the debate with a moving speech, which I am sure we all heartily support. He has identified a need for us all to acknowledge the facts of a world in which there is such poverty and such high child mortality, and the question arises how we should respond. Will people be inspired simply by an appeal to their morality and idealism? Sadly, the answer is yes, but no. More than one approach is needed. The question is one of mutual interest.

We should set the goals that the Department for International Development has championed, of halving poverty by 2015 and thereafter repeatedly halving it until we eliminate it. We should continue to pursue that aim for the benefit not only of young children but of young adults and middle-aged and older men and women in the countries concerned, whose lives are ruined by poverty and ill health. In some parts of the world, as the Select Committee on International Development has seen, particularly in southern Africa where HIV-AIDS is becoming such a scourge, life expectancy has dropped by more than 20 years in the past 10 years.

We must address that problem and help to manage it, but we cannot do that sitting in Westminster or in DFID's office in Victoria street. We cannot do it for the

15 Nov 2000 : Column 189WH

people concerned. They must be enabled to do it for themselves. I ask myself how we could inspire the British people--and not just the British people but all those with the good fortune to live in comparative wealth in developed countries--to help the poor of the world. As my hon. Friend said, it really depends on the children and young people of the world experiencing the poverty that exists in some of the countries concerned.

To speak personally for a moment, the poverty of Pakistan struck me when I was travelling from London to Singapore in an ancient Hermes aircraft, which broke down at Karachi. I spent a week in Karachi in 1955, eight years after the partition of India. There were the refugees of partition, still living on the banks of the Sutlej river. Those who know that river will know that it is covered in filthy, dirty, slimy mud. On those muddy and infirm banks, the refugees had used any kind of material from Kellogg's cornflake packets to driftwood to build some kind of shelter.

Karachi was full of beggars and young children, many of them mutilated so as to beg more successfully from richer people like me. My first experience of their difficulties came when I gave one of the beggars a few coins, only to find that the news spread fast. Among the beggar children in Karachi, it became an objective to extract from me still more coins or other gifts that I might wish to make, or some, perhaps, that I did not wish to make. I was chased into a doorway. I was extremely frightened and had to be rescued by two policemen who took me back safely to my hotel.

Such poverty was created by the stupidity of man: first, in the partition of India and, secondly, because, in eight years, no one had taken into account how a better shelter could be provided. It sunk into my soul that that creation of man could and should be put right by man: people, especially younger people, must be given the experience to help them to understand what life is like for human beings who suffer poverty and degradation throughout the third world, and in pockets in this country.

We must emulate the Kennedy Administration, which challenged the world with its peace corps, and create a corps of people who are willing to go to villages, slums, refugee camps and even brothels, as the International Development Committee did, to see and feel the conditions, to make human contact with people suffering those conditions, and to admire their resilience, their determination and their cheerfulness in the face of such terrible adversity.

I shall never forget being part of the International Development Committee's visit to the slum children living in Dhaka, where some effort had been made to give them schooling. The schools did not have a regular 9.30 am to 3.30 pm regime. They met in rudimentary conditions and the children were taught by volunteers--mainly women--after dusk, when they could no longer scavenge the rubbish tips. To see the enthusiasm, the bright determination and the exhilaration of a 10-year-old in those conditions showing us that he could read was the reward of that visit. Understanding begins to develop if people can visit those places.

We must encourage the twinning of schools and communities in the developing world with those in this country, so that people can go with a team from their neighbourhood to help people in the third world to build

15 Nov 2000 : Column 190WH

schools, pumping stations and houses, showing them the techniques necessary to construct what is needed in a manner that the area can afford. It is not only money that is needed.

Those contacts must be built up over the years so that children from Dhaka and from the slums and rubbish heaps outside other great cities in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Africa can be brought here for a fortnight, as my hon. Friend suggested, to learn from us not only about material things but about the friendships that can, and do, exist between races, religions and cultures. That is why they must come here, even though it sounds impossible. We would probably have to raise the money to enable them to travel, but nowadays, with cheap air travel, that would be feasible. If we manage to do that, it will develop the determination necessary to provide the rudiments of life, the education and the technological developments to enable the people living in slums in those countries to demand their rights and to work to build their own communities. That is how to defeat poverty. With the help and kindness of the human race, and the energy that will be generated by the visits that I have described, we can enable people, young and old alike, to help themselves. However, it will happen only when that coalition of circumstances takes place.

We saw, in Malaysia and Singapore in 1955, what can happen to the poorest countries when they become richer. Those two countries had been fighting the Japanese during the second world war and then the communist Chinese. They had suffered the conditions of war for between 15 and 18 years, and they had only one export, rubber, and that trade was severely disrupted by conflict. Conflict is the poverty maker. We must find a way to settle conflicts without destroying the infrastructure necessary to allow human beings to plant crops and sell the surplus to keep themselves alive. During conflict, all those things are destroyed and development cannot take place.

In the peaceful conditions that came about once the communist infiltration had been stopped, Malaysia set about working the rubber plantations and introducing new crops such as palm oil. New villages were developed, which part-owned the factories. People became shareholders, and they had land to grow their own crops and sell the surplus. They therefore needed roads to take their produce to market. Malaysia's economy is now one of the most powerful in Asia, and it is starting to produce manufactured goods such as motor cars.

The standard of living in Malaysia has risen immensely. However, that is the result not only of aid but of huge investment. If such countries are not in conflict, private sector investment can give them the confidence to employ people. Such investment is profitable not only to the nation but to the people, who can save and invest capital in their own right. That cycle has helped to bring Malaysia out of the serious poverty that it was suffering.

Mr. Rowe : My hon. Friend makes an important point. Those nations can derive encouragement from our country's record. My grandfather was born in about 1850, and I was reading in one of the DFID publications that the average expectation of life in Liverpool in 1847 was only 25.

15 Nov 2000 : Column 191WH

Mr. Wells : Yes, the developed and the developing world have made huge strides. I mentioned Malaysia because I wanted to show that we should not be downhearted or dejected. Changes can be brought about, but only if we enable people to do it for themselves. Life expectancy in Liverpool changed from 25 years to 75 for men and 80 for women because, through the co-operation of good Governments and investment, much more hygienic conditions were brought about. Better public health resulted from proper drainage, and water being piped into homes made bathing possible for everyone. It was the ability to earn a living and to produce a surplus that brought Liverpool and the United Kingdom to the present state of comparative prosperity.

We have somehow to get the idealism back into our efforts to stimulate curiosity in the people of the third world, so that they are inspired to go out and work with their compatriots. We must help them to help themselves so that they develop the friendships, co-operation and co-ordination that will attract the investment and employment that those countries desperately need.

Another serious point that we must bear in mind involves the important report of the International Development Committee on women and development. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) was a part of that effort, as was my hon. Friend. That report revealed the appalling conditions in which many women live, particularly in the sub-continent of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal. We have to work to change the culture that keeps women in desperately poor conditions and enable them to understand their rights--even if they cannot read or write. We have seen that it is possible to teach them the law.

Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani laws pass any international legal test, but they are not implemented. Not until women are enabled to live a life of self-respect and believe themselves that they can contribute to their family in a way that they cannot at present will we solve their problems, such as those that result from serious overpopulation, for example in India. When women can take control of their own fertility and their lives, with the help and support of their menfolk, we will begin to get real development and relieve the conditions in India, with its high percentage of the abjectly poor--India, Bangladesh and Pakistan together contain a large percentage of the abjectly poor. We must assist and encourage women in those countries to begin to live a life with their husbands and children that has hope and the capacity for growth, so that they can contribute to the intellectual and cultural life of their countries. That means changing Indian culture. We cannot do that, but we can assist people to do it.

We can also encourage the many Indian people who want to change their culture. My hon. Friend took the International Development Committee to a suburb of Delhi where truly inspirational work is being done in helping slum dwellers to build their own houses and install drainage on land that they initially did not own. Most of the people doing that work were women. Some of the children of that settlement now attend university in India and are likely later to have a leadership role so that they can change the conditions for the slum dwellers of India, not just in Delhi but elsewhere.

15 Nov 2000 : Column 192WH

That project was made possible because the land that they were living on was eventually transferred into their ownership so that they had control over it. Governments must provide the means of ownership of land and assets for slum dwellers to develop. Such a programme should inspire us all to believe that we can make a difference. It is a challenge of enormous importance to bring about a world in which people have self-respect and better living standards and can make a contribution. I am sure that the Minister's Department is making a great contribution in work that is idealistic but essential if we are to improve life in those desperately poor countries.

10.4 am

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I congratulate the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) on an inspiring speech. To me, Andrew, that is the sort of cut out and keep speech--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Nicholas Winterton): Order. I realise that this Chamber is informal, but that goes a bit beyond the intention of the Committee that created the Chamber, and the House's subsequent decision.

Dr. Tonge : I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was getting carried away, as I was by the speech of the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent.

The hon. Gentleman's speech was for me a cut out and keep speech. I still do not download easily; I cut out and keep. That speech will certainly have that treatment, and I suspect that I shall refer to it many times over the next few years. It was important because, in such an emotional way, he made the links that I am always asking people to make. Recently, when we--not me personally, but many people in this country--were shouting and screaming, protesting about fuel tax and complaining that petrol was slightly more expensive here and that we should do something about it so that we can drive our gas guzzlers wherever we want, I kept asking my constituents, "Can you not make the link? A few months ago you were screaming and shouting at me about helicopters to Mozambique and deploring the fact that a baby was born up a tree. You are now telling me that one of the very elements that created that disaster should be made cheaper. Make the link. That is the important thing." However, people never do so. We as parliamentarians, and especially those of us who are interested in development, must keep saying that.

Another link was made for me yesterday. My husband brought to the House a colleague, a doctor from Nepal, who is at St. Thomas' hospital for a few months. He was excited that the consultant whom he had happened to be placed with had a wife in Parliament. He came here and was completely overawed by the place, as people are. When I gave him his ticket to the Gallery to watch questions, he asked whether he might talk to me for 15 minutes, and he poured out his heart about wanting desperately to do something for the people of Nepal while he was over here. He recognised how privileged he was to have had a medical education and to be able to come over here, and--it was the first time that he had been to the west--he still could not get used to our way of life. He was on another planet, and he wanted desperately to lobby me to do something about Nepal and to help the poor people in his country.

15 Nov 2000 : Column 193WH

We must constantly make the link between the high technology about which we are all screaming, such as stem cell research and how it should be made available in this country, and the fact that, as the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) said, women are dying because of a lack of basic health care, and AIDS is rampant all over the third world. We must make the link.

I intend to be fairly pragmatic, because we can do many things here that can make a difference over there. Last night, at dinner, a colleague asked whether I could list a few factors that were important in development. I jotted down debt relief, corruption, capacity building, education, mortality, maternal and child health, health generally, clean water, HIV-AIDS, arms and arms brokers, trade and trade issues, the environment and human rights, which links them all. He said, "I didn't want anything like that. I just wanted a few pointers." I said, "Well, I'm sorry, but there they are."

The Government are beginning to understand that we need to link not only the third world and ourselves but the various Departments. Joined-up government is essential in development issues, because all the factors that I mentioned are dealt with by different Departments. Without co-ordination, our efforts are pointless: we are throwing money away.

Will the Minister explain, either in this debate or in writing, why there is no signature from the Secretary of State for International Development on annual arms exports? She scrutinises them and is supposed to play a part in saying where it would be dangerous to send arms, so why is her signature not there? Symbolic it may be, but symbols are important, and it should be there.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes ): I may be able to help by pointing out that our Department and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State are consulted on only a percentage of arms export licences--only those destined for developing countries in which we have a particular interest--whereas the other three Departments are involved in consultations on all the licences.

Dr. Tonge : I thank the Minister for his response, but without wishing to offend him, I suspect that it is a little inadequate. Nevertheless, it is very important that DFID be consulted wherever arms are to be sent, because there are many countries that, if they are not in dire poverty now, would be after a civil war, which might be caused by our sending them arms. The Department should have more input into the report and, likewise, the human rights annual report. There can be no Department more concerned with human rights than DFID, yet there is no signature from the Secretary of State on the report.

As a Parliament, we should demand a greater input and influence from DFID on those issues. It seems to me that the Department of Trade and Industry strides across the world destroying much of what has been achieved. Although there has been no decision yet on the Ilusu dam, if we are not careful, huge numbers of people are likely to suffer from one Department's decision, and

15 Nov 2000 : Column 194WH

DFID will have to pick up the pieces. The key is to make the link among the various Departments and with the third world.

Mr. Wells : As I understand it, the Foreign Office is responsible for human rights in all countries, and the Department of Trade and Industry must take its advice. Is it not extraordinary that the Minister responsible for the Ilusu dam is not prepared to let us see the advice that he gave the DTI on human rights in Turkey connected with the Ilusu dam?

Dr. Tonge : I entirely agree. It makes one think that there is something to hide. The decision has not yet been made, however, so we must live in hope. What we do know is that if current trends continue we will not achieve the 2015 poverty reduction targets that were published in the White Paper. The World Bank and Oxfam tell us that 70 million more people are in absolute poverty now than 40 years ago.

Although we are making strides in some directions, things are not getting better. They are getting worse. I shall not go through my list in detail because that would take several weeks, but there are some issues that I would like to highlight. The first is trade. I remember the former Member for Tottenham, the late Mr. Bernie Grant, who was a member of our Select Committee and a very dear friend of us all, saying that African countries want trade, not aid. He used to shout from the rooftops about their vital aim: fair trade. They want free trade, but it must be fair. We still are not achieving that.

The actions of the west in trade agreements are damaging the third world and causing it constantly to fall back. We all know the examples, such as the large amount of dumping of agricultural products in third world countries, which affects the ability of their farmers to sell produce. Everyone knows the famous example of the bananas and the World Trade Organisation. I shall not go into details of the case, which anyone can look up. It is iniquitous that the world can hold to a decision that might force Caribbean small banana growers into growing drug crops because they no longer have a decent market for their produce. As I keep telling people, that produce is far better than the stuff that we get from the big banana growers.

When the multinational agreement on investment was being negotiated a year or 18 months ago, we heard a great deal about multinational guidelines for the way in which big companies operate abroad. I repeat that the onus for good behaviour and codes of conduct must be on the multinationals and must be legally binding. It must not be for poor, third-world countries to operate the guidelines. They will never do so, because they want the trade and investment so much that they will cut corners.

I understand from the non-governmental organisations that mail me--they do so three or four times a day, it seems--that an agreement called GATS, or the general agreement on trade and services, will soon be established. If we are not careful, public services in developing countries will also be at risk from the multinationals. We must consider the matter carefully to ensure that public services are not exploited and that facilities such as water supply are not made more expensive for people living in developing countries. It is terribly important that we consider that matter, and I hope that the Minister will speak about it.

15 Nov 2000 : Column 195WH

When I took over the brief for international development after the general election, one of the things that had never occurred to me as an innocent in the field, before I had participated in Select Committee visits, was the lack of capacity and the amount of corruption in many developing countries. Lack of capacity often means that even if countries have the money, they may not be able to spend it properly because they do not have the right people to make the right plans. I am sure that the members of the Select Committee who are present would agree that we saw evidence of corruption wherever we went. We saw it from the very lowest level to the highest levels of government. I know that the Department for International Development has addressed that problem. It is important to do so. We all shout for a much higher proportion of our gross national product to go as aid to developing countries, but that is no good unless they have the capacity and the good governance to absorb it.

Mr. Rowe : The hon. Lady makes a powerful point. In addition, she may have been as astonished, as other Select Committee colleagues were, to discover that the UK has the feeblest legislation on corruption of all the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. The Home Office claims that it does not need to do anything because the system is working perfectly. As far as I can see, there has not been a single prosecution for money laundering in this country, despite its being well known that, as one of the largest financial centres in the world, the City of London is bound to have a significant amount of laundered money.

Dr. Tonge : I do not have the experience to comment on what is going on in the finance houses or the exchanges of this country, but, if the hon. Gentleman is right, I hope that the Minister will address that problem also.

We all agree on education, education, education. I should like to add one more statistic to those given by the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent. Sub-Saharan African countries spent $11 billion on arms in 1998. Universal primary education for all the children in developing countries would cost $8 billion, yet sub-Saharan Africa alone spent $3 billion more than that on arms in one year.

Of course, that brings me--the Minister and the civil servants will groan at this point--to my favourite hobby horse: when will we have legislation to control the activities of arms brokers? Yesterday, I acknowledged that that is difficult, and I do so again today, but so is controlling the drugs trade. We spend billions of dollars a year trying to control the activities of drug pushers and barons, so that we can protect a few people in the western world. What could that money achieve if it were used to chase arms brokers? If we could control their activities, how many hundreds of thousands of lives in developing countries would be saved? We must take this issue seriously, and I hope that the Minister will put pressure on other Departments to introduce legislation as soon as possible.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): Despite many debates with the Minister in which hon.

15 Nov 2000 : Column 196WH

Members pressed for EU aid to be suspended to those African countries that are known to supply the arms and soldiers that feed the wars, there is still no mechanism by which EU aid can be suspended. Does the hon. Lady agree that that is depressing? EU aid continues to drip-feed into those countries, fuelling the very conflict that she is discussing.

Dr. Tonge : To be totally honest, I am not clear what the hon. Lady is referring to. Is she suggesting that EU aid is used to buy and send arms to those countries? If so, that is appalling and it should be investigated. However, it is difficult to argue that we should suspend humanitarian or development aid on the ground that that country is selling or laundering arms. That happens in every country in the world.

Mrs. Gillan : I was thinking in particular of Zimbabwe, where $250,000 a day was used to feed the war in the Congo. There was no mechanism to stop that direct aid going to the Government. The difficult area is EU to Government aid, rather than the aid that goes directly into projects and reaches the people for whom it was originally destined.

Dr. Tonge : I thank the hon. Lady for that clarification, and I agree with her. I knew that she would want to mention Zimbabwe, as she often does.

The AIDS epidemic is raging throughout developing countries. Some of those countries, such as Uganda, have admitted to the problem and are taking action. This huge problem will, I suspect, decimate the economically active portion of an entire generation of people in Africa and Asia. In fact, I am depressed about AIDS and I think that it will take time to control it.

I thank the Government for putting progressively larger sums of money into AIDS vaccine research--future generations in developing countries will be eternally grateful for that. As an ex-medic, I know that, as with smallpox many years ago, a vaccine is the ultimate hope for controlling the AIDS virus. The Government began the process with modest sums, but last year they increased funding to £25 million. The Chancellor's latest spending review makes it clear that more money--we have not received the precise details yet--will be provided to foster AIDS vaccine research. I thank the Government for that from the bottom of my heart, because it will make a huge difference to third world development.

Last Saturday night in Kingston and Richmond, I joined my local Bahai community in celebrating the birthday of their founder. The Bahais are concerned about development issues and poverty in the third world, and at the celebration the children performed a dance in which a little boy named Iqan--I promised to mention his name--dressed in a black bin bag and bare feet to represent the poor of the world, while the other children dressed in their smart sweatshirts and jeans. Every time Iqan appealed to them, they swatted him to one side. The more he appealed, the more they swatted him, and they carried on having a great time, enjoying life and demanding more and more goodies.

The dance concluded with a great catastrophe, and Iqan fell to the ground. He was prostrate before the children and obviously dying, and they gathered round

15 Nov 2000 : Column 197WH

with huge concern. They offered help, caressed his body and carried him from the room in a great gesture of sympathy. I thought, "How appropriate--isn't that what we do all the time?" Every time there is a famine, flood or other catastrophe in third world, we fill the collecting boxes, set up our standing orders at the bank, and say how terrible it all is. Then we get back into our cars and drive to our security-gated estates and forget all about it, having done our bit for the third world by giving money.

As a doctor, this is a hard thing for me to say, but although such actions make us feel good and charitable and absolutely wonderful, they will in fact condemn children in developing countries to a much slower and more painful death, unless we take all the steps to which I have referred to bridge the gap between developed and developing countries.

10.27 am

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): In the light of the previous three contributions to this debate, I rise with some trepidation. Like the two hon. Members who spoke after my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), I congratulate him on securing this debate and on the sensitive way in which he introduced it. It is clear that he feels deeply about this subject, which he has pursued consistently throughout his parliamentary career. Before this debate, I looked up his entry in Roth's and there was something rather nice about it. It described him as a socially sensitive and caring Christian, and he lives up to that apt description, of which he should be proud. I agree with the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) that his was a cut out and keep speech.

I could never emulate the eloquence of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) on this subject. He has served in Parliament for many years, and his speech enabled us to benefit from his great knowledge, wisdom and guidance. He chairs the International Development Committee in an exemplary fashion, and all hon. Members, regardless of their political persuasion, appreciate its work under his leadership.

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if this is beginning to sound like a mutual admiration society, and I shall deal with the Minister in a minute. The hon. Member for Richmond Park gave us a canter around the fields. Her long-standing interest in the subject of development has been well catalogued. She and I have spent many a lonely hour in Westminster Hall debating subjects of that ilk. Only yesterday in this Chamber, we were discussing the Great Lakes and Rwanda and the Government's policy on that area. A Labour Member mentioned that during the recent all-party parliamentary visit to the Great Lakes region she had observed that the eyes of the children were dead. That is a poignant description of the product of conflict, wars and man's inhumanity to man.

We have only to read some of the reports of the child soldiers that are deployed by warring factions in various parts of Africa to be appalled that children are so used and abused. We do not have to go to Africa to see such abuse. We can nip down the road to the other end of Europe and see the results of ethnic cleansing and hatred between communities in Kosovo. I was in Kosovo a few

15 Nov 2000 : Column 198WH

weeks ago and went to a small village in the hills above Pristina where some brave Serbs had finally had the courage to return to their village, which was in ruins. Some of our British soldiers were helping to reconstruct their houses. I saw an old woman and three young children with a mother who was obviously traumatised and could not function properly. A 10-year-old girl had undertaken the care of the two younger children and seemed happy to do that, but one could not help looking into her face, which was the face not of a 10-year-old child but of a 90-year-old woman.

There is a fabulous charity in my constituency called the Toy Box, which was started by Duncan and Jenni Dyason. They provide help to children on the other side of the world--the street children in Guatemala city. They started the charity in 1992 and do sterling work. It is appalling that there are still almost 40 million street children in Latin America alone. Charities such as the Toy Box offer a window of hope. Its young student workers, helpers, members of the Dyasons' church and even a well-known company called The Entertainer, which sells children's toys in this country, all support the Toy Box charity.

I received a letter from one of the student workers who has just spent three months working in Guatemala City as part of a project. She said that she had come to love the children, one


I admire the people who work with children in areas such as Guatemala. I do not have the opportunity to do that, but they deserve our support and I hope that the Toy Box will continue. We should also pay tribute to the many charities that do sterling work in that respect throughout the world.

The Conservatives share other parties' objectives in seeking to alleviate poverty. I applaud the Department for International Development for recently producing its strategies for achieving the international targets on halving world poverty by 2015. Although we sometimes differ with the Department on the policies that it deploys, we share its aims.

The World Bank recently updated to 1998 its estimates of the number of people living in poverty. The new figures reveal that both the share of the population and the number of people living on less than $1 a day and on less than $2 a day declined substantially in the mid-1990s after increasing in the early 1990s. Sadly, the number of poor people rose again in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. The decline was due almost exclusively to the reduction in east Asia, most notably in China, but progress was partly reversed--and stalled in China--by the crisis.

15 Nov 2000 : Column 199WH

In south Asia, the incidence of poverty declined moderately throughout the 1990s, but not sufficiently to reduce the absolute number of poor people, which has risen steadily since 1987. In Africa, the share of poor people has declined but the number has increased. The new estimates indicate that Africa is now the region with the largest share of people living on less than $1 a day. In the countries of the former Soviet bloc poverty has, unfortunately, risen both by share and by number. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the share of poor people has remained roughly constant over the period covered by the World Bank, but the number has increased dramatically.

That brings me to a specific aspect of the Government's policy that I want to raise. There is little point in aiming to bring the poorest in the world out of poverty if the policies that we adopt may work to lower the standards in countries that are above that level already. In other words, we want not a levelling down but a levelling up. I am worried about a proposal that is being considered by the European Commission, and I hope that the Minister can address that in his response.

In September, Pascal Lamy, the European Commissioner for trade, announced that the Commission had agreed to a proposal that will result in the world's 48 least and less developed countries--the LLDCs--being offered, in 2001, duty-free and quota-free access into the European Union for all their products except arms. When Europe's decision to support the poorest nations through trade measures was announced, it was hailed as a forward-looking--and more than required--response, which offers an end to the marginalisation of the world's poorest countries and may, it is hoped, be matched by the United States and Japan.

However, it is now becoming clear that if the proposal--which is described either as the Lamy initiative or the everything but arms initiative--is implemented without significant amendment it may seriously harm every commodity-dependent Caribbean economy, destroying much of the sugar and rice industries and damaging the rum industry's last remaining chance to compete in the EU market. It will certainly diminish further the prospects for Caribbean bananas in Europe.

The EC proposal, which remains subject to consultations and eventual agreement between European Ministers, is politically sensitive and difficult for the Caribbean region to address, and places the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries in a dilemma. The region is committed to supporting any initiative aimed at helping the world's poorest nations, as we all are, but it may not be able to accept the EC's proposals because to do so could be at the expense of the special arrangements agreed for commodities in the just-completed Kotonu partnership agreement.

Apart from threatening the future of the sugar beet and banana protocols, the Lamy initiative may also damage, perhaps terminally, the creative ideas being developed on commodity issues by the Caribbean regional negotiating machinery. To complicate matters

15 Nov 2000 : Column 200WH

further, the EC proposes to proceed by means of an amendment to an existing regulation, which will not require a joint decision with the European Parliament.

Mr. Wells : Is my hon. Friend aware that the Jamaican Trade Minister recently discussed the question of everything but arms with the Germans in Berlin? He told them that the Kotonu agreement, although not fully ratified by European Governments, none the less has legal effect. If the Ministers agreed to admit all goods from the least developed countries without tariff or quota, that would be illegal under the terms of the agreement. The European Union would, therefore, contravene its own agreement with the ACP if it were to go ahead.

Mrs. Gillan : My hon. Friend's point stands alone, and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to it.

I tabled some questions earlier that were transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and the Minister of State there replied that the Government believe that there is a potential inconsistency between the proposals and the regime. I hope that this matter will be pursued by all Departments involved.

While applauding whatever we can do for the least developed countries and the world's poor, we must ensure that we do not destroy the economies of other countries. It is easy for progress to be reversed. Evidence for that exists in the recently updated World Bank report, in which China has slipped backwards and the number of poor people has increased, even though, statistically, the percentage remains the same. It is so easy to fall beneath the line and return to abject poverty. I hope that the Minister will assure us that the proposals for the Caribbean would not endanger the standards of living in those small, fragile island economies.

10.43 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes ): I join all other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) on securing this debate. I am not allowed to call him my hon. Friend, although that is what he is. In this Chamber, I am not allowed to call him Andrew--although I do outside--and if I were a Member of the Scottish Parliament, with its modern, updated procedures, I would.

The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent made a thoughtful, philosophical, moving and wonderfully non-partisan speech. I am not sure that I can live up to it. As Opposition Members know, I tend to be a bit of a partisan bruiser from time to time. However, I shall do my best, especially as this is an appropriate time for a debate in which the main topic is concern for children. This is the week of Children in Need--my wife has given me a special tie to wear--but I hope that we shall remember children in need not only for one week, but throughout the 52 weeks of the year, as the hon. Gentleman said.

As well as being a cut out and keep speech, as others have called it, the hon. Gentleman's speech should be titled, following a phrase that he used, "Pause for Thought". That phrase is now used as a title for what is rather cheekily called the God slot on the radio. It is

15 Nov 2000 : Column 201WH

right that those of us involved in the hurly-burly of politics, especially in matters such as international development, should occasionally leave the day-to-day and week-to-week routine to pause and consider what we are doing. In our Department, we have tried to do so during the past three and a half years, first with White Paper 1, which dealt with all our work but concentrated on poverty eradication, and now with White Paper 2, which considers the potentially huge threat from globalisation, which is the main topic of concern in developing countries now. Hon. Members kindly acknowledged that we are working hard.

As the hon. Gentleman and others said, we have been concerned about poverty, not only because it is morally right to be worried about poverty in Britain and the deeper and more abject poverty in developing countries, but because it is in our long-term interest. Could we have a more graphic example than the floods of how climate change affects us? I do not mean only in places such as Mozambique, but more modestly but nevertheless dramatically in the United Kingdom. If people who struggle to survive have to cut down trees in the tropical rain forests, there is an immediate and direct effect. That is why we published a White Paper on poverty eradication and why we do everything that we can to help in the context of our development programme.

I shall try to cover most of the points that have been raised. If I cannot do so today, no doubt we shall have the opportunity to return to the subject in this excellent parallel Chamber. As the hon. Gentleman said, the biggest inequalities are between the vast majority of relatively well-off people living in developed countries, and the 1.2 billion living on the margins of existence in abject poverty. I do not want to diminish poverty in Britain, but those people are without adequate food, clean water, sanitation, health care and education. That is why poverty eradication is our top priority.

As hon. Members have acknowledged, Britain has been at the forefront of development agencies, giving an unambiguous commitment to poverty eradication. Since the publication of the report, we have twisted the arms of other organisations--we are members of almost all of them--such as the World Bank, the European Union and the regional development banks, encouraging them to commit themselves to the principal target of poverty eradication and the subsidiary targets. We have been relatively successful in doing that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, officials of the Department and I have worked in all the forums in which we have representation.

People have said that the targets are ambitious, but we think that they are achievable if we have the right policies in the developed and developing countries, and if we have the political will to push them through. As the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) said, it is important that we push forward not only development assistance, but other matters that affect developing countries such as trade, investment, agriculture and environment. We are committed to playing our part.

Nearly 7 million children die each year before their first birthday, and 12 million before their fifth, as the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent said. About 120 million children are without even five years of schooling. Those are shocking facts that we must always remember. To break the cycle of deprivation, we must support all the aspects of the full development of

15 Nov 2000 : Column 202WH

children that enable them to realise their rights and to become productive citizens. That means ensuring their survival, protecting them from abuse and conflict and meeting their development needs, especially in health and education. It also means allowing them to participate in decisions that affect their lives.

Let me give an example of what we are doing. In Andhra Pradesh in India, we are helping to get more children out of marginalised communities and into school. That is linked to funding an International Labour Organisation programme, which involves co-operation with Government institutions, the private sector--which plays a vital role--and civil society to develop a state-based approach to tackling child labour. I have a list of all the work that we are doing to support the attack on child labour. I should be happy to provide it to hon. Members, who will have seen the document entitled "Helping not Hurting Children: An Alternative Approach to Child Labour". We have taken the issue firmly on board.

As has been pointed out, the convention on the rights of the child provides the yardstick that we use to measure how the world is treating children. Next September, the international community will meet in New York at a special session of the General Assembly and review how far we have gone over the past 10 years. I remind the hon. Member for Richmond Park that progress is being made, as she was being a bit negative. We must recognise that progress has been made in a number of areas, including, for example, the mortality rate among children under five. In Bangladesh, that rate has dropped from 205 to 106 per thousand. In Uganda, it has fallen from 185 to 134, and in Bolivia from 195 to 85. I am not trumpeting those figures, as a great deal remains to be done, but we will become too disheartened if we do not recognise that some progress has been made. We must acknowledge that we are at least beginning to move in the right direction.

As several hon. Members mentioned, it is not only our policies that must be right, but those of the developing countries. We are sometimes coy about saying that developing countries need to get their policies right. If they are to maximise the benefits of globalisation, they must first create effective systems of government, and we are helping them to do so. They must also take action against corruption, with which we are helping. They must ensure respect for human rights. We are also helping with that. They must promote security, safety and justice for all. Again, we are helping on that area. They must prevent violent conflict, in respect of which the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) spoke about Zimbabwe. We are raising the issue of conflict in developing countries and pointing out how it inhibits our debt cancellation and development assistance programmes. Also, developing countries need to make markets work better for poor people and to invest sufficient resources to develop a healthy and skilled work force. Without those elements, the effectiveness of our policies is severely restrained.

Mrs. Gillan : Will the Minister confirm that the amount of EU aid going into Zimbabwe is still at the same level that it was, say, two years ago? I think that

15 Nov 2000 : Column 203WH

that is when we had our initial discussion about reducing the aid, when $250,000 a day was going into the war effort.

Mr. Foulkes : I shall write to the hon. Lady specifically about that, as I want to deal with some of the points made earlier.

Of course, concerns were expressed about conflict and arms controls. We have tightened control over the export of arms and have helped to establish similar controls throughout the rest of the European Union. We have stated our commitment to introduce a licensing system to regulate the activities of arms brokers and traffickers. I remind the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham that that could have been done a long time ago if the previous Government had taken on board the need for such a system. We are also working internationally to stem the trade in illicit drugs and minerals, which fuels so many conflicts.

We have helped to raise international awareness of the importance of an accountable security sector that is responsible to an elected Government and does not see itself as an alternative Government. Arms brokerage legislation has been drafted, and I assure the hon. Member for Richmond Park that we will continue to press for early legislation.

A number of hon. Members spoke about corruption and I was asked what we are doing in Britain. We recognise that we need to improve our own controls. The Home Office has published proposals for updating British laws on corruption. The Treasury is currently reviewing financial regulation systems in UK overseas territories to encourage compliance with international standards of financial regulation. The Department for International Development is supporting work by Transparency International to develop integrity guidelines. The Export Credits Guarantee Department has set up several measures to prevent UK companies from using its support for corrupt purposes. Bit by bit and area by area, we are taking the matter on board.

We shall never be able to put an end to all corruption in developing countries. Successive Governments have tried to achieve that in this country. To use an isolated incident of mismanagement, as the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) did recently, to undermine the development effort in Malawi, where we are trying to help the poorest, is downright mischievous. I hope that he will recognise that it was the work that was done on corruption, and not his intervention, that had an effect on the Government of Malawi.

The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham asked about the European Union's everything but arms initiative. I am sure that she will understand the purpose behind it. It was to provide duty-free access to the European Union for the poorest countries in the world. I hope that she approves of that and accepts that those countries, with the largest number of poor people, are the ones that we should help. To give them duty-free access is useful, but I recognise the problems that that creates, particularly in the Caribbean. We have received several representations on the matter.

As the hon. Lady knows, the Lamy initiative includes a transitional period for goods such as sugar and bananas, to help the Latin Americans and Caribbeans

15 Nov 2000 : Column 204WH

to adjust. It is Britain that has taken the initiative in trying to help the Caribbean countries. That is why the carousel activity has resulted in threats to British trade, including in particular the cashmere trade in the Borders. I assure her that we are taking on board the representations, mentioned by the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), from Tony Hylton, the Jamaican Trade Minister, and others.

Mr. Rowe : I realise that the Minister has a huge brief and a short time in which to speak, but I should be grateful if he could make some response to the proposition that the Government could play a real role in creating exchange programmes, youth corps or whatever.

Mr. Foulkes : Like the hon. Gentleman, I wish that I had much more time. I have a great deal to say and will no doubt find another opportunity to say it. However, by wonderful coincidence, I was just about to come to the matter that he raises.

The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford also raised the question of a British peace corps. We already spend about £30 million a year on supporting volunteer programmes that help to send more than 2,000 volunteers to 80 countries. We have moved away from the kind of scheme that existed when he and I were boys, which meant taking a year out after school or university to go to developing countries. Those activities were good for character building for people such as him, the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent and me, but they were not necessarily the best thing for developing countries. Now we want to concentrate on what assistance is best for developing countries. That is what Voluntary Service Overseas, British Executive Service Overseas, Skillshare Africa and others are doing. We support those bodies in their activities and are considering how to support them further. If any ideas are forthcoming, I shall certainly consider them.

As to global citizenship, which the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent mentioned, I am pleased that we have now published guidance to help teachers in schools to incorporate global issues into the curriculum. We have published that for England, we are doing so for Scotland, and next will come Wales and Northern Ireland. We are sending teachers to developing countries and we are including some aspects of development in teacher training. The number of schools twinned with schools in developing countries has doubled in the past year. A great deal is being done--so much that I should like to speak all morning, but I suspect that other hon. Members want to discuss other matters.

I again thank the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent for securing the debate. It is a pity that we did not have more time, but I assure him that the Government are committed to everything that he said, and I thank him for the kind way in which he and others said it. Progress is often slower than we would hope or expect, but I hope that he agrees that, in the matters I have dealt with, the Department for International Development is making its mark in the world.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I congratulate all hon. Members who participated in the debate, which was of the highest quality.

15 Nov 2000 : Column 205WH


Next Section

IndexHome Page