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8.28 pm

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): I, too, welcome this debate. It is customary when speaking in our debates to say that there have been some interesting speeches. I do not wish to be patronising, but I really do think that we have heard some very interesting and useful speeches.

I approach the issue of international development with a sense of the moral obligation that the rich have towards the poor. It is not only a Christian obligation, but--as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) said--a moral obligation that we all have towards the poor of the world.

I also agree with some other hon. Members in questioning the need for this legislation. The Secretary of State and the Department for International Development seem to have been doing perfectly well in the past four years, and we have commended much of what they have done. I therefore do not entirely share their determination to pass this Bill. Nevertheless, I do not entirely object to a new Bill or to the establishment of a new set of parameters.

I have been on the Select Committee on International Development for almost four years. It has been fascinating and extremely educational. Like the Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford, I believe that the Committee has done useful work. However, I have also found it frustrating because, as much as I should like to bash the Government, we have often found that that is rather difficult to do. We have had to adopt a rather non-partisan approach. It is not that all the Department's actions have been good but that, as we all

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agree that poverty is a bad thing, any action taken around the world to defeat poverty, although one may not be entirely uncritical of it, is generally to be applauded.

I am therefore sorry that there has been so much partisan discussion in this debate, about which I take issue with the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Mr. Goggins). The partisan discussion started with the Secretary of State--I am sorry that she has left the Chamber--who kept saying how dreadful the previous Administration had been. However, those comments contrasted with her previous comments. I realise that, in an attempt to be somewhat conciliatory, the Overseas Development Administration did not get everything right; generally, however, it got most things right.

The Department for International Development does not get everything right either; generally, however, it does most things pretty well. As I said, all hon. Members in the Chamber wish to see the Department flourish. I think that we all support its aims, even if we might disagree on various specific issues. Perhaps I should add that the Secretary of State commended the Trinidad terms. This Government's action on debt has, similarly, been mostly pretty good.

I should like to address four issues in my speech: governance, HIV-AIDS, de-mining and European aid. As has already been mentioned, the Committee is examining corruption. We have had some mind-boggling evidence from business people about the need for "facilitating payments". When I asked whether that meant small bribes rather than big bribes, I was told that that is exactly what it means. Last week, we took evidence from the Secretary of State. I do not think that there is much difference between Opposition Committee members and her on the governance issue. Indeed, I thought that her evidence was extremely illuminating and useful.

The Committee also heard that corruption is the biggest deterrent to investment for any international company. Although some international companies may make facilitating payments, they would prefer not to have to do so. They want to operate in countries where the rule of law runs and they know that, although they have certain obligations, they can make money--their profits--without having to pay bribes. Those of us who believe, as I think the Government do, that investment and economic growth are imperative in alleviating poverty, regard corruption as the biggest deterrent to inward investment.

As we all agree, and as my hon. Friends the Members for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) and for Hertford and Stortford said, the poor suffer most from corruption. If one has a lot of money and loses a few dollars, it does not matter very much. However, those who have to live on less than $1 a day and then have to pay extra for their children's schooling suffer greatly from the loss of such sums. Similarly, people who cannot afford to pay extra for health care suffer most.

I particularly applaud the Department's policies to support public service reform. I believe, however, that we have to be tough in promoting it. The old saying is that one has to be cruel to be kind. Although I do not think that that applies fully in this situation, I still believe that we have to be tough. When corruption in any form is discovered, but particularly grand corruption, it cannot be tolerated.

Hon. Members have mentioned Zimbabwe. I do not think that we can tolerate the corruption that has led to the deployment of large numbers of troops in the Democratic

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Republic of Congo and to war there. We are aware of the influence of diamonds in that case and in Sierra Leone. We must make a stand against corruption wherever it may be, and we have to be tough. I think that the Government are generally tough when dealing with it, but sometimes we could be a little tougher. The United Kingdom is perhaps adopting a firmer view on corruption than it had during the cold war. I think that that is true of the world community generally. Since he took up his position at the World Bank in 1996, Jim Wolfensohn has demonstrated how we can move forward on the issue, as we really must.

The hon. Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett), among other hon. Members, has already mentioned the issue of HIV-AIDS. In sub-Saharan Africa, HIV-AIDS is undoubtedly the biggest threat of all to the poor. Again, as schools are being left without teachers, hospitals without doctors and untold numbers of children without parents, it is the poor who are suffering most. It is reducing life expectancy in a way that should make us all want to weep, as it is destroying the achievements of development. The disease is torpedoing development. When I referred to it as the black death that was stalking Africa, the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) picked me up as though that was a racist comment. It was intended only as an analogy with the way in which the black death stalked Europe. This morning I heard Glenys Kinnock on the "Today" programme referring to it as the black death, so although I might be accused of many things, few people would wish to accuse Glenys Kinnock of being racist--particularly if they were in the same room as her.

I commend DFID for the work that is being done, but the issue needs to maintain its high profile. The majority of people on the streets of Blaby, or London, are not aware of the devastating effect that HIV-AIDS is having on the poorest countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. We need to continue to press the issue so that people understand its impact.

The Select Committee is about to produce a report on HIV-AIDS. I have not seen it so I cannot leak it, but we must realise that the disease not only destroys development but increases poverty and creates instability and conflict. I know that on this issue, the Secretary of State and the Department are very much on side, but it needs to be stressed time and again.

I now turn to de-mining. I should say first that I am an unpaid trustee of the HALO Trust, which is the largest de-mining agency in the world. We receive excellent support from the Department. De-mining is a large element of DFID's bilateral funding to the HALO Trust and other organisations such as the Mines Advisory Group. I intend to discuss the issue with the Secretary of State next week.

Less than three weeks ago, members of the Select Committee went to a de-mining site in Cambodia. The lack of knowledge about the impact of anti-personnel mines is also quite grave. People know about the Ottawa treaty and what a bad thing land mines are, but they do not know quite what is meant by de-mining. We are not talking about minefields staked out with a nice wire fence and signs depicting skulls and crossbones and "Achtung Minen" signs. We are talking about a mined site that may be in a village, sometimes under people's houses because that is where the Khmer Rouge or the Government forces were slugging it out some 10 years ago. People are

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literally living on top of land mines and that can have a devastating impact on their lives. Generally, land mines are planted not in out-of-the-way places but in populated areas and on agricultural land as that is where people were fighting.

I have a CIET report on the social costs of land mines in Cambodia. Admittedly, it is about five years old. It found that in Cambodia, which is a country of grinding poverty, there could be a 135 per cent. increase in agricultural produce if all the anti-personnel mines were cleared. One can imagine the impact on people's lives of having land mines around. Every child knows to stick to a path through a particular village because if it wanders from the path it might get blown up. If a breadwinner is killed or has a foot blown off, the impact on the family is devastating.

The same report found that in Cambodia 61 per cent. of families with a mine victim went into debt to pay for medical treatment. Debt is a serious matter that many of us have encountered, but in Cambodia we heard from people who were selling their children into prostitution to pay off their debts. They were losing their land and becoming bonded slaves. It is an issue of such importance that to say blandly that 61 per cent. of affected families go into debt is understating the case.

I am not, as a trustee of a land mine clearance agency, indulging in special pleading about land mine clearance. I am trying to increase the general knowledge of the problems to do with land mines. Those of us who went to Cambodia found the visit very illuminating.

Like other countries, Cambodia has a mines action committee, CMAC. It has had a bad few years. A 1999 audit of the committee's funds for the two previous years by the accountants, KPMG, found that a lot of money had disappeared, and that the group's administration was poor, to put it mildly. However, the worst finding was that the committee was working to clear land not for poor people, but for fat cats--people with Government connections, or senior military officers, for example. The whole purpose of the clearance was being negated, to a large extent. The Select Committee met King Sihanouk, who saw fit to raise with us CMAC's appalling record. I think that that was rather illuminating.

Mine clearance is a slow and mind-numbing task. Each person can clear about 35 sq m a day. In Cambodia, mine clearers get $150 a month, which compares with the $22 a month that a headmaster gets. The job may be tedious and take a long time, but it is essential for poor communities. The Committee saw a school that had been built on de-mined land. Who would build a school on land that had not been de-mined? That is the question that we must ask.

Finally, it is often estimated that there are between 100 million and 110 million land mines and anti-personnel mines scattered around the world. The House should treat such estimates with a large pinch of salt. It takes an enormous effort to plant mines and carry heavy munitions. Leaving aside the Russians in Afghanistan, most of the armies that planted the mines were made up of irregular soldiers who moved on foot. They did not plant mines in the enormous numbers that are spoken of.

That fact is important, because 110 million mines seems an insuperable clearance target. The real total is much lower: throughout the world, there are probably

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about 6 million mines. That total puts the problem in a different perspective. Some organisations have an interest in overstating the case. However, that is not to say that one anti-personnel mine that takes the leg off a child is not one mine too many.

The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that the Secretary of State described the European Union as the worst agency in the world. At last, reform of the aid programme is on the agenda. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, I might be described as a little bit of a Euro-pragmatist, but we can all agree that the recent history of the EU aid programme has been a scandal and a disgrace.

I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State applauding the proposed reforms, but we should judge them on results. It is no good throwing good money after bad. Money has been wasted in an appalling manner. The culture in EU offices is too cosy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford described. People have been in the business a long time and have made a decent living out of it. I am sure that they have done some good, but they have been sitting around on their backsides for too long.

Neil Kinnock is trying to change the leopard's spots among EU employees, and he is having a lot of trouble. There must be a change in culture before we contemplate putting more money into EU programmes, and I applaud my party's view that we should spend more money bilaterally. I think that we all agree that the money is not generally well spent. Although in general I applaud DFID's determination to work with others, we should not lower our standards of aid delivery or lose sight of our objectives just to keep in with partners, be they the EU or others.

I wish to make two further quick points. We recently visited Cambodia, a grindingly poor but very beautiful country. The small amount of aid that we spend there has a disproportionate impact in terms of what it can achieve. Some aid is a drop in the ocean in a large country, but the aid that we spend in Cambodia has a disproportionate impact. I urge the Minister to consider spending more money in Cambodia rather than less. It is not Conservative policy to spend more money, so I hope that I will not be picked up for saying that. Nevertheless, I think that the money spent there achieved a great deal.

Along with the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) and other right hon. and hon. Members, I would like an annual debate on development, perhaps focused on the Department's annual report. Such a debate would be useful--it would raise the profile of the Department, the work that it does and the need for that work to be done. Again, most people in the Chamber would not disagree with that.

I do not disagree with the Bill; it is mostly quite sound. I have generally agreed with DFID's actions and policies over the past three or four years. I have some reservations about the Bill but, despite those, I wish it well and hope that DFID, under whatever Government is in power after the election, continues its good work.

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