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7.24 pm

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): This is likely to be my last debate, but perhaps I will be allowed to take part in the Adjournment debate prior to dissolution, or something of that kind. Given the record, this is certainly my last opportunity to debate international development on the Floor of the House. Having sat through our debate, I have found it extraordinarily constructive. There has not been a speech that has not added something to our knowledge and challenged us. It is a particular pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall),

May I take hon. Members on a journey to a foreign land--the United Kingdom at the end of the next Government's four years in office? Let us look for a moment at Dartmoor, which, as a consequence of our extraordinary pursuit of food at prices which mean that virtually no producer can make a profit, may well end up with every single wild animal on it slaughtered--if we can achieve the skill to do that with or without hounds. Fortunately, however, all will be well, because an alternative use for Dartmoor will be found. Whichever party wins the election, as part of the obscene competition between those on the Front Benches to lock up as many citizens or non-citizens of this country as possible--whether increasing numbers of young people or refugees from overseas--it will be able to turn all of Dartmoor into a form of prison camp.

In our debate, it has been said that the number of refugees is bound to continue growing. As the disparity in wealth between the rich world and the poor continues to increase, so will the number of refugees seeking a better life. Indeed, as the number of conflicts increases, so too will the number of people seeking life itself.

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We must have a much better strategy for dealing with that than we have at the moment. There is an extraordinary paradox: we devote enormous resources and tremendous effort to preventing large numbers of people coming here from overseas, while at the same time encouraging private agencies to rush around overseas finding foreigners to come and work here. We have not got that right at all; the only possible solution, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) said in his excellent speech, is to create the conditions in the countries from which people come here to make them want to stay. There are not many people who would want to leave their home, relatives and the country with which they are familiar if the conditions there were improved.

The thrust of international development is therefore essential. May I suggest to the Under-Secretary of State for International Development a simple little strategy? It might be worth challenging all British citizens to consider what 0.7 per cent. of their annual income buys. To most people, that is just a figure. If they sat down and looked at their annual budget and saw what 0.7 per cent. bought, there might be a slight change in the public's general attitude to this important issue.

It is hugely important to realise that we cannot achieve any of the targets that we have set ourselves alone. I very much welcome the emphasis that the Department is placing on the development of partnerships. As every part of the globe assembles into larger groupings, whether it be the Association of South-East Asian Nations, the emerging groupings in southern Africa--which appear to overlap quite a lot--the North American Free Trade Agreement, or the European Union, it is essential that we make those partnerships work and use our leverage to obtain much better productivity from them. It is obscene that the EU aid programme works so badly; defending it is one of the biggest single difficulties for those of us who approve of our EU membership. There is no reason whatever why that extraordinary bureaucracy should be allowed to get away with it.

Another great issue is demography. The youthfulness of the world's population is extraordinary. An extreme example is Cambodia, where 46 per cent. of the population is under 15. It may be an awful comment on Pol Pot to say that just 2 per cent. of the population is over 65, but Cambodia is by no means alone. The danger for such countries is that there is about to be an explosion in the numbers of young people at their most sexually active, with no foreseeable income and no livelihood to earn.

If that is not a recipe for instability, I do not know what is, but it is also a tremendous opportunity. The world is rent with conflicts which have their roots in earlier generations. If we can provide those young people with education and some kind of opportunity, their generation may be able to shed the age-old hostilities and make something of their countries.

It is enormously important to give young people a voice. That is not the easiest thing to do. It has taken me four or five years to assist the United Kingdom Youth Parliament for people under 18 to come into being. It has been an uphill struggle to get anyone interested in it at all. We speak all the time about listening to the voices of young people, but that is only just beginning to happen, and it is happening mostly through organisations that like to speak for them. We need to do a great deal more in all countries to assist young people's voices to be

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constructively heard. I commend the work that the Save the Children Fund is doing in Zimbabwe, for example, where it is collecting and publishing children's views. Beyond that, however, the project is not organised, which is hardly surprising.

We need to recall the horror of children being used not only as soldiers, but as torturers. One of the most awful moments in our recent visit to Cambodia was going to the genocide museum and hearing that, as a matter of policy, Pol Pot had used eight to 15-year-olds to carry out the torture of adults. What is so terrible is that those 35-year-olds, or whatever age they are now, are out there in the villages, having exercised the most obscene cruelty for four or five of their most impressionable years, never having had a chance to talk through the experience with anyone, and not having the faintest idea of how to handle the trauma, which must be huge. I understand that the level of violence in the villages is very high. Such misuse of children is appalling.

One of the groups that I want to bring to the Minister's attention--as if he needed me to--are orphans. There are said to be 23 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa. In Zimbabwe, which I visited last October because my wife was working there, out of a population of 13 million, 1 million are orphans. Orphans are, by definition, the least regarded, poorest and most likely to be exploited group of children on earth. There will be exceptions, of course, and in Africa particularly there has been great hope that the long-established family structure would absorb orphans, but in most sub-Saharan African countries the capacity of the family network to absorb any more orphans has been exhausted. Orphans as a group need to be more visible and to be treated with respect. They need opportunity and a voice.

By and large, the priorities of the Department for International Development are fine. It is right that the Department should seek to influence and exert leverage on Governments, but there is a danger that resources will be wasted on corrupt or semi-corrupt Governments. If we are not careful, we shall return to the bad old days when such Governments exercised great ingenuity in mis-spending the resources that we provided. I know that the Secretary of State is aware of the danger.

A further danger, especially in the sector-wide approach, is the danger of cutting off innovative pioneering projects. Although there is a huge advantage in using our relatively small aid budget to achieve maximum leverage, it is important that we do not inhibit the emergence of innovative projects.

We should take a serious look at some of our longest-term customers, so to speak. Nepal, for example, has had a remarkable amount of aid per head poured into it. It is a country with enormous difficulties, starting with its topography. I remember going there and meeting a Member of Parliament. I asked how long it took him to get to his constituency, and he replied that it took 48 hours, followed by a four-day walk after the road ran out.

Nepal is not an easy country, but my understanding is that, if anything, it is going backwards, despite all our aid, partly because, as the hon. Member for Dumbarton pointed out, the Maoists are an ever-growing menace--a problem originating primarily from a well intentioned effort to stop people growing drugs without providing them with alternative sources of income. The Department

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needs to consider how we should handle long-term aid recipient countries that show no improvement. That is a real challenge.

We have heard about the difficulty of defining and reaching the poorest of the poor. As my colleagues on the Select Committee know only too well, I believe that the disabled are among the poorest of the poor worldwide, and it is extraordinarily difficult to create large programmes for them, because they are, by definition, scattered across the population. I am pleased that the Department has published a strategy paper for reaching the disabled, and I hope that more work will be done for them, especially preventive work.

There is clear evidence that early intervention can prevent the development of deafness, blindness and other disabilities very cheaply. We must consider the provision of professionals such as audiologists and optometrists, who are relatively cheap to train, but who are in such short supply that large numbers of children are not recognised as being in danger of going deaf or blind.

Cambodia was a worrying and depressing country to visit, although it is a lovely country, and much good work is being done. We started out by meeting aid workers who described the projects and the work being done for people who had very small holdings, or holdings that were on such poor land that they could not sustain a family; then we went to the villages, spoke to the people there and discovered that 40 per cent. of them had no land at all. In a sense, our projects were aimed at a level above the poorest. That was disturbing.

We must stop robbing the poor of their key resource: people. I raised the matter with the Secretary of State for Health on the Floor of the House, and he pointed out that the national health service has good guidelines about not recruiting people from overseas, but every trust in the country, in extremis, draws on the people provided by agencies, and the agencies are in no way inhibited by such guidance.

I am always worried by the fact that students from the poorest countries have to pay the full whack of overseas student rates. That is nonsense; it cannot be right. Even if we cannot rebate students' fees before they arrive, could not we do so if they return to their own countries? That seems a perfectly sensible approach.

It is the poor who hate corruption most and suffer from it most. It is dreadful to hear representatives of large British companies telling the International Development Committee that if the culture of the country demands it, the payment of small sums to accelerate business is not corrupt. That is nonsense and we must ensure that our behaviour improves. Wherever we go, it is the poor who tell us that they want to get corruption out of the system. For example, as far as I can see, the land distribution system in Cambodia is wholly corrupt. Nominally, all land belongs to the Government, but it is given away to anyone who chooses to pay for it and the poorest people have nothing. In one village, we discovered that the headman was taking a cut and letting the poorest people there go down the Swannee.

We must also take seriously the corruption of the election process in developed countries. There is something obscene about the fact that it costs $25 million to become an American Senator. There is, too, something utterly obscene about the way in which even this country's systems are in danger of being distorted by big

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givers. It is a real disease. In some countries, the tradition of Members of Parliament distributing largesse to their constituents is taken for granted, but it is wrong of us to point a finger when they then try to recoup the huge costs of becoming elected.

I am a great admirer of non-governmental organisations, which have made a wonderful, remarkable and indispensable contribution to worldwide development. However, I initiated a Westminster Hall debate on their accountability, which must be addressed. Of course, some of the better NGOs are starting to deal with that issue themselves, but it is worrying that the developing world is full of expensive four-wheel drive vehicles that take one to places where the health workers cannot afford a bicycle. I am anxious that many NGOs are accountable only to their founders, to self-perpetuating committees or to an ethos or motive that may or may not be wholly respectable. We must encourage the NGO movement to make itself thoroughly accountable.

I hope that, as a part of international co-operation, we can persuade other countries, including some of the biggest donor countries in the world, to reconsider and follow more closely what Britain is trying to do. In other words, they should consider how to reduce the proportion of their aid budgets that flows back to them in salaries paid to white northern professionals, rather than to the southern professionals who need such assistance so much.

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