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8.15 pm

Mr. Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale, East): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry). I do not know whether he remembers as well as I do a visit that he paid in the mid-1980s as a new Member of Parliament to a project that I ran for young offenders in Salford. I welcome his remarks about increasing the aid budget, which will be supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who made what he described as possibly his last speech to the House--certainly the last on international development. I found his speech interesting and it certainly displayed great understanding of and commitment to international development issues. It stood in stark contrast to the contribution made from the Conservative Front Bench by the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter). My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) described it as mean-minded, and it was.

The hon. Gentleman asserted that people are disillusioned with Government policy on development, but my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) scotched that one and I agree with him. The policies on international development and debt have been extremely popular and have impressed and encouraged many of my constituents. I look forward to the election, when we can compare our record with his little blue book, but I shall present my party's argument without recourse to the personal abuse with which, sadly, his speech was laced.

Throughout my lifetime, in and out of politics, considerable debate has been provoked by the saying, "Charity begins at home." Some argue that the United Kingdom, which over the last quarter of the 20th century became one of the most economically and socially divided countries in the industrialised world, should put the needs of its poorest people first. Others remind us that, despite those deep divisions, ours is still a rich country, so we should begin with the needs of those in Asia and Africa whose lives are a daily and often unsuccessful struggle to survive. My view is that the moral mandate to prioritise the needs of people in poverty does not make the question one of either/or. We must deal with both.

My belief, which, I am proud to say, is shared by Ministers in this Administration, is that a Government pledged to tackle social exclusion at home are all the more likely to fight poverty abroad. A Government who are determined to reduce the health inequalities facing

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children in Manchester will also strive to improve the life chances of babies born in Mozambique. Tomorrow, we shall no doubt hear more good news from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. Throughout this Parliament, his sound economic policies, which have increased employment and moved more than 1 million children out of poverty, have also enabled the Government to increase development assistance by 45 per cent. in real terms and move, at long last, towards the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product.

I warmly welcome the Bill, which moves us on from the broader requirements of the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980 to a more focused responsibility for providing development assistance that, as clause 1 makes clear, is

Too often, development assistance has been tied to post-colonial and cold war interests. Too often, it has enhanced the interests of the donor rather than the recipient. It has relied too heavily on the actions of fragile and frequently corrupt regimes, whose interest in conflict or personal wealth has prevented help from reaching the very poorest. Too often, assistance has been a bandage on wounds inflicted by the systems of international finance and trade.

Again, the values that connect domestic and international policy are clear. Just as this Government believe that the answer to the problem of poverty in the United Kingdom is the opportunity for an individual to earn, and not simply for the Government to hand out more generous welfare benefits, it seems that international development must be sustainable rather than being merely a handout from the rich man's table. That means encouraging significant private sector investment in poor countries; it also means the introduction of grass-roots initiatives such as micro-credit, which enable people in poor areas to fund and develop their own solutions. Clause 6 empowers the Secretary of State to give guarantees and acquire securities, as well as to dispense grants and loans. I believe that that power will add much-needed strength to the Government's approach.

I want to make four specific points. First, I warmly welcome the provision in clause 4 for the Secretary of State to promote awareness of global poverty and of the means of reducing such poverty. Development education is extremely important. I pay tribute to the development education project based at Manchester Metropolitan university, which is part of the United Kingdom Development Education Association. By means of initiatives such as "global express" it has been able to provide resources and training for teachers, helping them to engage their students in practical projects linking opportunities to learn about subjects such as history and geography with the exploration of issues of citizenship and sustainable development--and, crucially, with values, moral principles and an informed view of the world. The campaigning and advocacy of international development agencies such as CAFOD also play a vital role in the raising of public awareness of the short-term and long-term needs of people in poverty.

As the Secretary of State said, sustaining a global consensus that poverty must be ended will require the informed support of citizens throughout the developed

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world. The additional funds for development education that the Government have already given are therefore extremely welcome, underpinned as they will be by the Bill.

My second point relates to the Government's clearly stated commitment to ending tied aid from April. As the Secretary of State made clear in the globalisation White Paper and repeated in her speech today, the tying of aid is inefficient and provides poor value for money. It frequently puts the interests of the donor above those of the recipient in ways that are inconsistent with a focus on poverty reduction. In short, this was a policy that did not and never could work in the interests of the poor, and we are well rid of it.

Some have asked why we should not include such a provision in the Bill. My right hon. Friend responded helpfully by explaining that the poverty focus in the Bill made the practice impossible, given that the value of aid was reduced by about 25 per cent. when it was tied in that way.

My third point concerns debt. I am pleased that a number of Members have raised that issue, although the Bill contains no specific debt provisions. The Government--I refer to my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Chancellor in particular--have given a strong and inspiring international lead on debt reduction: they argued for the reform of the heavily indebted poor countries initiative, pressed for 100 per cent. bilateral write-offs and placed poverty reduction strategies at the centre of the arrangements for each country.

While it may not be practical or necessary to include debt provisions in the Bill, it is important for us, in this debate, to emphasise the vital role that debt reduction must continue to play if we are to achieve our goal of halving world poverty by 2015. Ensuring that 22 countries reached the HIPC decision point by the end of 2000 was a huge achievement, but that progress must be maintained. Every effort should also be made to ensure that those who, as a result of conflict, have not yet been able to benefit from HIPC are eventually able to do so.

It is true that debt reduction on its own is not enough. It is also true that many poor people in areas such as south Asia do not benefit from the HIPC programme, because their countries have not the same level of crippling debt. Nevertheless, debt reduction must remain a central feature of the overall strategy to reduce global poverty.

There is also the question of what steps the international community is willing to take to ensure that the debt crisis facing so many poor countries does not occur again. My right hon. Friend has made a remarkable contribution, but even she would admit that she will not be Secretary of State for ever. It is essential to ensure that international development and financial institutions devise transparent and durable systems to protect the world's poorest people from irresponsible borrowing and lending; unsustainable debt is in no one's interest.

I want to say something about another important link between domestic and international policy--the need for people in poverty, wherever they live, to be genuinely involved in the regeneration of their own communities. In this context, I am probably echoing some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent. For years, we in the United Kingdom thought that all it took to improve the prospects of poor and disadvantaged areas

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was to make the place look better: central Government would allocate the money, and local government would decide how to spend it. But top-down solutions meant that the people were left behind, and before long the buildings were usually as bad as ever.

I believe that this Government more than any before have emphasised the need to work alongside people and empower them. Partnership is the key. So it is in international development. It can no longer be a question of what the rich can do for the poor; it must be a question of how, by working together, we can eradicate poverty for ever.

I was interested to hear recently about a project run jointly by Church Action on Poverty and Christian Aid, linking local people from Thornaby on Teesside with a similar group from Manila in the Philippines. Over three years, 40 people--a mixed group including benefit claimants and disabled people as well as a local teacher and a general practitioner--went on exchange visits to each other's communities. They discussed their problems and their ideas for solutions. Working with the wider community, they shared their experience of local projects and considered how community groups could organise their own responses to the poverty that they faced. Their overall conclusion was that the biggest gulf was not one of geography, but the gulf between the powerful and powerless, the rich and the poor, wherever they may be.

I believe that the challenge of the new millennium is to foster the kind of solidarity that that project developed, but to link it with a new understanding among the rich of the world that if we do not make that world a fairer place in which to live we will, in the end, all suffer the consequences. The Bill will help us to achieve that aim.

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