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9.20 pm

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): Like all my colleagues, I sincerely welcome the Bill. Anyone who feels a moral compunction to lessen poverty, as we all do on both sides of the House, will congratulate the Government on the Bill.

Happily, morality is not the only winner. Yes, there is a moral compunction to eradicate poverty, educate children, reduce infant mortality, stem the flow of arms, reduce conflict, prevent environmental degradation, provide debt relief, promote the rule of law and safeguard human rights, but even among those who do not have a single moral bone in their bodies there is a growing recognition that we cannot afford not to deal with those issues.

The best way to deal with all those issues of life and death, prosperity and deprivation, is to safeguard a poverty-focused approach. That is what the Bill will enshrine in law. It represents a profound shift in international development policy, first introduced by the Government's White Paper in 1997. That approach is entirely different from the policy of the previous Government. We have refocused our entire development effort on the reduction of extreme poverty and we have untied all UK aid. That is an extremely important step.

What reduces poverty most? It is trade, coupled with the equitable redistribution of its benefits. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said many times, in the past 50 years we have lifted more people out of poverty than in the past 500 years. Most people have been

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pulled out of poverty not because they have been handed official development assistance, but because they or their families have been given access to an economy that permits them to earn a living wage and provides social sector investment in schools, hospitals, clinics and so on.

I refer anyone who has an interest in the matter to the Select Committee's 10th report on the WTO, entitled "After Seattle--the World Trade Organisation and Developing Countries", as well as DFID's own White Paper, "Eliminating World Poverty: Making Globalisation Work for the Poor."

Issues associated with trade and globalisation are central to the Bill's poverty-focused approach. We must generate pro-poor growth. Unfortunately, there is no consensus about what constitutes pro-poor growth. I eagerly await DFID's research into that. I welcome the range of financial instruments that the Bill makes available to DFID so that it can influence reform in the private sector. There is no point in influencing only the public sector, when many of the poorest people are never reached by the public sector. The recognition of that fact has infused Government thinking.

Without economic growth and access to markets, poor countries are condemned to an unbreakable cycle of poverty, so one anti-poverty strategy must be tariff-free access to developed countries' markets. At present, all the aid that the richer countries give the poorer countries still amounts to only 5.6 per cent. of what the poorer countries generate from trade.

Imagine if the terms of trade were fair. Imagine if the EU and the USA were not among the biggest protectionist culprits on the planet. Imagine if we could find it in our hearts to increase the miserable share of world trade that is apportioned to the poorest countries--to raise it from its current microscopic level of 0.4 per cent. Imagine if the international system was not riddled with double standards and the poorest of the poor were at the top of our agenda. They are at the top of the DFID agenda, but how do we make that dream world a reality that spreads across other organisations and institutions?

We should start with the development targets, which are otherwise known as Development Assistance Committee targets. They include halving the proportion of the world's population who are living in extreme poverty, getting all children into primary school, progressing gender equality, reducing infant mortality rates by two thirds and reducing maternal mortality by three quarters. The aim is to achieve all that by 2015. Those targets are the biggest challenge facing the world; they are the planet's "to do" list.

A woman in sub-Saharan Africa has a one in 12 chance of dying from pregnancy-related causes. In the developed world, she has a chance of one in 4,000. On current trends, 100 million children will be out of school in 2015. Developing countries carry the burden of 90 per cent. of the world's disease, but they receive less than 10 per cent. of its health resources. AIDS single-handedly threatens to roll back hard-won development gains. For example, it has knocked a staggering 22 years off average life expectancy in Zimbabwe. In Zambia, 42 per cent. of hospital beds are filled with AIDS victims, but despite all that, drug companies still want their pound of flesh. Given those appalling statistics, we need accelerated progress

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towards the DAC targets and not just more of the same. That is why the British Government's poverty-focused approach, which the Bill entrenches in legislation, is so critical if we are to reach the targets that I have mentioned.

I shall discard many parts of my speech because of lack of time, but I want to mention the change in approach by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. That is another example of the British Government using their influence to change the global institutions that affect policy on these matters. The World Bank and the IMF have followed the example set by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and made poverty reduction a part of their working ethos.

I used to be one of those who stood outside with placards and banners shouting and demonstrating against the IMF and the World Bank. I can hardly believe my ears when I hear the leaders of the those organisations, Jim Wolfensohn and Horst Kohler, exhorting member states to redouble their efforts to reduce poverty. Others working on the ground with those institutions might say that seeing is believing, but there is no getting away from the fact that the new World Bank and IMF approach, which is enshrined in the poverty reduction strategy papers--or PRSPs--contributes to helping the poorest people.

Equally importantly, PRSPs give ownership to developing countries. Interestingly, although they emerged from the process of debt relief, they are now being used as a tool in other areas. That highlights the importance of the cross-fertilisation of ideas in development--another area in which the British Government have taken the lead. We have also unilaterally provided 100 per cent. debt relief for any developing country that is committed to using the proceeds to benefit the poor. For example, we have moved heaven and earth to help the poorest people in Rwanda. Again, we have done so through debt relief, good governance and building a modern and effective state. The Government have led by example and put their money where their mouth is. Surely, politicians could never ask for more.

Between 1997-98 and 2003-04, our aid budget will have increased by 45 per cent. in real terms. It will total £3.6 billion in the final year, which is the largest UK aid budget ever. The Bill ensures that poverty eradication remains the focus of every penny of that money. For that reason, I welcome it unreservedly.

9.29 pm

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): Perhaps I am getting old, or perhaps I am mellowing, but I agreed with many hon. Members' comments. I therefore begin by congratulating everyone who has spoken. The Secretary of State may have to pick herself up off the floor when I join other hon. Members in welcoming the Bill.

The range of topics that hon. Members have raised shows how keenly the House has missed debating international development under this Government. We have covered drugs, AIDS, mine clearance, child labour, plague and pestilence, war and peacekeeping, the European Union, other institutions, the Commonwealth Development Corporation, climate change and even devolution. A common theme permeated the debate: we

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all want poverty to be reduced throughout the world, and we are unstinting in our praise for the NGOs and others who try to bring help and succour to the world's poorest people.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on producing the Bill like a rabbit out of a hat. I am sure that she was amazed when the usual channels gave her a slot for the measure. She did not have as much success in securing debates, but her Bill has reached Second Reading.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), who gave praise where it was due, and was unstinting in his comments on the Department's achievements. However, many hon. Members were sufficiently mean-minded to snipe at him, whether he was present or not. Those criticisms were hurtful and a little unfair.

I shall not go through every hon. Member's contribution in detail. The right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke), the hon. Members for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington), for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), for Stevenage (Barbara Follett), for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Mr. Goggins), for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne), for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), and for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), and my hon. Friends the Members for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), and for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) all made speeches, while my hon. Friends the Members for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), and for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), and the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Alexander) intervened. Every contribution had merit; every hon. Member spoke with authority.

I want to reserve most of my comments for two hon. Members, albeit Conservative Members, who will retire at the next election. I hope that all hon. Members will join me in congratulating my hon. Friends the Members for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) and for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) on their contributions today. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent showed his abiding concern for children and economic migrants. I pay tribute to the Youth Parliament that he promoted throughout the United Kingdom for the millennium. It was a magnificent project and a fitting tribute to his time in the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford is sitting right behind me. He has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in the House. Since 1981, his stint on foreign affairs and development matters has been broken only briefly by a foray into the Whips Office. He soon returned to international development as a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and, since 1997, as Chairman of the Select Committee on International Development. He has made a genuine contribution. Before becoming a Member of Parliament, he gave up 12 years of his life to the Commonwealth Development Corporation. He is now treasurer of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. He does not stint on his work load.

I have a list of the papers and reports that the International Development Committee has published. It is too long to read out in full. It includes reports on Montserrat, Sudan, and women and development--I found that report especially important. My hon. Friend has not shirked difficult issues such as the Ilisu dam and Mozambique. Three reports are currently under

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consideration. They cover HIV-AIDS, corruption and the globalisation White Paper. I trust that the Secretary of State will ensure that the election is not called before my hon. Friend has an opportunity to complete them, because the next Conservative Government will rely on their outcome. We can all agree that my hon. Friend's wisdom, knowledge, dedication and commitment are a credit to the House and to international development. He will be sadly missed.

The Bill seeks to anchor the goals of the Department within the framework of the reduction of poverty. As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon said, we do not oppose the main theme of this legislation. We share a common goal, and we recognise the commitment of the Department, the Secretary of State and her Ministers. I miss my exchanges with the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), who is now the Minister of State, Scotland Office, but I look forward to my exchanges in Committee with the new Under-Secretary.

We wish to explore the areas between the lines of the Bill and highlight issues that might be helpful to the Government and could contribute to our shared goal of reducing the pain and suffering of the poorest people throughout the world. Our methods may differ from those of the Government from time to time, but our ultimate aims do not.

The central plank of the Bill is poverty reduction, and we need to explore with the Secretary of State how that new emphasis will affect the Department and our development work. Let us take the example of good governance that has been mentioned again and again in the debate. The Government have not made governance a priority in the Bill. However, to lift a country and its people out of poverty, it is indisputable that one needs a framework of competent and responsible Government, open and accountable institutions and the rule of law. When good governance goes out of the window, poverty quickly rushes in through the door.

One has only to look at Zimbabwe, which was mentioned by several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent. In Zimbabwe last week I saw productive farms that had been reduced, in less than a year, to little more than patches of dirt, producing so little that they can hardly support the squatters' families who have prevented the legal owners from planting and producing food. A farm that only last year could produce an income to support the many now struggles to provide sustenance for just a few. The destruction and the absence of good governance are an open invitation to famine and destruction.

In the light of the Bill, we need to ensure that democracy building, good governance and the activities that ensure the development or maintenance of legal systems can definitely continue. Indeed, I hope for reassurances on activities such as Customs and Excise operations, which are essential in relation to drugs, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will bring to the Standing Committee an assurance that such activities will continue. We need to know what activities are acceptable, and what activities will fall within the parameters of the Bill.

Commendable though the poverty focus may be, nowhere in the Bill do we find a definition of poverty. That issue was raised by several hon. Members, including

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my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford, who spotted it first. In the absence of such a definition, we need to know, for example, how there can be any clarity concerning the parameters to be set by the Secretary of State, and how we can discover which countries and which peoples would qualify for, or be denied, aid under the Secretary of State's new formula. The hon. Members for Stevenage and for Clydebank and Milngavie raised that point earlier, and we shall need to explore the issue in more detail in Committee.

We shall also need to know how the new focus affects our international relationships. Many hon. Members raised the issue of how the Secretary of State will deal with the European Union aid budget. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon pointed out that the bias in expenditure is towards the relatively rich countries of the Mediterranean and eastern Europe, rather than towards Asia and Africa, where most of the world's poorest people live. As 30 per cent. of the Department's budget goes directly to the EU aid programme, how will that expenditure be justified when the legislation sets out different aims and objectives and, certainly, a different set of priorities for the UK aid spend?

The reform of the EU institutions may well be on its way. We wish it good speed, but progress has been painfully slow and I am not holding my breath waiting for it. This legislation will be in place before the reforms are anywhere near completion. We know that the Secretary of State cannot reduce the amount of money delivered through the European Union; she will therefore be on a collision course with it. I hope that the Minister will tell us in Committee how the Secretary of State will deal with that anomaly.

I want to touch on two matters of particular concern to me: the British Council and the overseas territories. Both are in need of guidance from the Department as to their future status. The relationship between the Department and the British Council has fundamentally changed since the Department was split off from the Foreign Office. Indeed, the value of contracts between the Department and the British Council has fallen dramatically, from £62 million in 1996-97 to £23.3 million in the last financial year, and we need to examine how the Department's actions have affected and will affect the British Council's activities.

Back in 1997, the Secretary of State referred to the British Council in the White Paper as

but unfortunately the rhetoric does not necessarily match the reality these days.

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