|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Chris Mullin): The figure was a quarter of 1 per cent. when the Conservative party left office; it is now approximately 0.29 per cent. and rising. I do not suggest that that is acceptable, but the figure was decreasing and is now increasing under this Government.
Mr. Baldry: I shall not quibble, but the Library briefing for the debate shows a reasonably flat line between 1979 and today. My point is addressed as much to those on the Conservative Front Bench as to the Government. The figure is pathetic by any standards.
The Government say that they hope to increase spending on development aid to approximately a third of 1 per cent. of GNP by 2004, which is well into the second half of the next Parliament. Although the Government have said that they will continue to work towards the target of 0.7 per cent. set by the United Nations, there is no time scale for what has been and continues to be nothing more than an aspiration. In the run-up to the general election, pressure needs to be maintained on the Labour and Conservative parties to give clear commitments as to when they will reach the modest UN target for development aid to poorer countries, because without funds, all talk of helping to eliminate poverty and promote sustainable development is simply a somewhat pious aspiration.
International development is an area in which I hope the shadow Chancellor will make it clear that a future Conservative Government would not just match the present Government's spending, but do considerably better. Apart from sound humanitarian reasons for assisting developing countries, there are also good commercial reasons to assist world development. Britain is a trading nation; we export more per head of population than any other country in the world except Japan, and--
A number of hon. Members have made it clear that if more and more parts of the world move towards ever more desperate poverty, it will not be surprising if there are an ever-increasing number of economic refugees, many of whom will wish to come to the United Kingdom. My first point, therefore, is that there must be pressure from all political parties for an increase in the aid budget--let us at least try to reach the UN target of 0.7 per cent. as quickly as possible.
My second point is that at least a quarter of the money that DFID receives is spent by the European Community. This year, the European Union will take £728 million of DFID's money--a quarter of its budget. Now, I have no hesitation in declaring myself pro-European. I am happy to be described on Eurosceptic websites as a Europhile. I fervently believe that it is in Britain's best long-term interest to work with our partners in Europe, and that Britain's voice will be heard more clearly throughout the world as a consequence. I hope that my wholehearted support for Britain's membership of the European Union means that criticism of EU institutions by me and others who think in a similar way will be taken all the more seriously.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): I know that my hon. Friend was merely trying to goad hon. Members by saying that. I do not feel goaded, but I wonder what evidence he has that our voice has been heard more seriously around the world during our membership of the European Union. I know that he will simply say what a tremendous success the European Union has made of its aid programme, because he and I agree about a lot of things.
Mr. Baldry: If my hon. Friend had been listening, he would have known that I was going to say I am unimpressed by the EU development programme. I was laying the ground for saying that I hope it will carry greater credence for someone with my credentials to say that they are unimpressed by the EU development aid programme than if such a statement came from the mouth of someone who was known for criticising everything in the European Union and for being a classic Eurosceptic. However, we live in a somewhat bizarre world if a Conservative who says that he is a pro-European is challenged by his parliamentary colleagues for having goaded them. I look forward to sitting on these Benches and to being goaded for many a year yet, and I hope that the argument will regain a better mainstream balance in due course.
I was making the point that I am unimpressed by the EU development aid programme, and I am not alone in that. The Select Committee on International Development examined the effectiveness of EU development assistance in its report published in the previous Session. It is important to remember that the Committee, like all the Select Committees, has a large Labour majority. Nevertheless, it unanimously concluded:
Indeed, I would go further. Clause 4 provides for the Secretary of State to support organisations or funds that wholly or partly exist for the relevant purposes set out in clause 1. That provision empowers her to give money to the European Union. Clearly, some of the money that the European Union uses cannot demonstrably be proven simply to be used for poverty reduction; hence the need for clause 4.
An International Development Committee report in the previous Session noted that EU policies are clearly determined more by political priorities than by poverty alleviation. Our European colleagues often have political priorities of their own. To echo comments made earlier, the shameful feting of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe by the Belgian Prime Minister yesterday is a classic example of that. Of course Belgium has historic links to the Congo and doubtless thinks that it among the international community is obliged to take a lead in the Great Lakes area. Belgium may have a part to play, but that does not mean that the red carpet has to be laid out for Mugabe, almost to the strains of "Hail the Conquering Hero".
If one were writing a case history of bad governance, corruption and despotism, it would be difficult to find a worse example than Zimbabwe. If the Harare declaration is to have any credibility whatever, Zimbabwe should be suspended from the Commonwealth forthwith. An assurance that no further development aid will go to Zimbabwe until some semblance of good governance is restored would be extremely welcome. Clearly there is a tension between poverty reduction and good governance, and although I have no quarrel with the need to focus on poverty reduction, we cannot ignore the need to achieve good governance.
Following on from the size of the aid budget and reform of the EU development budget, my next point about what can be done to help the world's poor concerns debt. The Jubilee 2000 campaign has achieved an enormous amount. Debt is not felt by politicians whose policies incur that debt; it is borne by the poorest people, through what they are denied. I congratulate the Government: it is good news that they have renounced the right to receive any benefit from historic debt owed to us by all the 41 most indebted countries. It is also good news that they have cancelled all aid debt for heavily indebted poor countries.
When the Heads of Government of the world's wealthiest nation's get together at the G8 summit this summer, it is to be hoped that they will focus on further measures for debt relief for poor countries as well as ways in which industrial countries can open up their markets to exports from poorer countries. It is obviously good news that the EU, only a matter of days ago, made it clear that it will provide duty and quota-free access to EU markets for the least developed countries, ending all import tariffs. Developing countries must reciprocate. They have a part to play, where appropriate, in helping to put an end to civil wars and external conflicts, because it is pointless to provide debt relief if the money simply goes on further arms expenditure. It is also good news that debt relief has gathered momentum, and I hope that that momentum can increase.
The Bill is unobjectionable. Perhaps it was not needed, but it presents us with a welcome opportunity to debate international development. I hope that Members on both sides of the House and people throughout the whole country will exert pressure on Front Benchers from both main political parties to ensure that international development features in the general election campaign, whenever it comes, and that there is a clear commitment to increase spending on development aid. We must maintain the momentum on debt relief and on reforming the EU development budget. The task ahead of us is enormous and at times seems almost overwhelming, but we have a great duty of care to get it right for future generations. If we do not, the consequences for the world will be serious.