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3.34 pm

Mr. Worthington: I was sorry that I could not be present earlier, when hon. Members failed to reach amendment No. 1, which I tabled. I was involved in other development work on the Standing Committee that is considering the International Criminal Court Bill.

However, I want to use my amendment as an expression of concern about the way in which the House deals with development issues. The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) gave my point away. He spoke about having the first debate in four years at which the Secretary of State was present. I remember years when not even the Under-Secretary attended debates, as he was in another House. There were no debates on development. The Bill is the first such development measure in 20-odd years, and it is possible that no other Bill will be introduced for another 20 years, as international development does not lend itself to domestic legislation. There have been years in which not a single debate on development has occurred in the House, and there may be such years to come.

I believe that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said some kind words about my amendment. I am not convinced that it is perfect, but I hope that we will find some way of achieving an annual debate on development issues. To my mind, development is becoming increasingly important in the life of this country. It has gone up the agenda, partly because of the contributions of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and her team. The Opposition talk constantly about establishing an aid agency and giving aid. Indeed, that is all that they talk about. This Government have established a Department for International Development that is a different sort of creature. It is much more than an aid agency. Under my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Department is concerned with the major issues facing the world today.

I should like to list some of those issues. They include the activities of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and the aim of eliminating world poverty. They also include globalisation, corruption and HIV-AIDS. The Department is about the very

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sustainability of the planet. It is concerned with the relationship between north and south on trade issues such as the price of drugs. Indeed, it is concerned with every trade issue. Those and many other matters surface in the Department's work, but they are not discussed in the House. When we consider what goes on in the House, we must ask whether it is surprising that many people--especially the young--wonder whether we live in the same world as that which concerns them.

Many hon. Members will know of the success of Jubilee 2000 in tapping into that public concern about development issues. In particular, people are concerned about debt. It is in relation to that concern that the big meetings occur. I was once asked to stand in for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at a meeting. I went to St. Albans cathedral to be faced with a huge congregation. That is not my usual experience. Hundreds of people attended a meeting on that particular issue. That is what people are concerned about and it is where today's politics lies, but their anxiety is not reflected in this House. We do not talk about it. What does the House say about the incredible pandemic of HIV-AIDS? The International Development Committee produced an excellent report on that issue. It pointed out that three times as many lives are lost through AIDS each year as are lost through war or aggression. What does this place say as a forum for debate? It says nothing.

I tabled a modest amendment to try to ensure that we have at least an annual debate on development. There are precedents for that arrangement. There is a regular debate on Wales, and even the armed services regulations have to be approved annually, but development receives no such consideration. If there is another way of introducing such an arrangement, I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will consider it. We must face up to the fact that the way in which the House deals with development issues--and, indeed, some other issues--is not satisfactory. We spend a lot of time on issues that are much less important than those with which the Department for International Development deals. We must address that problem, which is what my amendment sought to do. I hope that my hon. Friend will use his considerable influence to deal with the matter, as he has achieved much more in the past than overcoming opposition to such proposals. I have every confidence that when the Bill returns to this House, it will at least contain provision for an annual debate. My faith is placed in him.

3.39 pm

Dr. Tonge: I wish to add my comments to those of the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) about the Secretary of State who, sadly, has left her place. She has been an excellent Secretary of State, and we have all admired the work that she has done. She is sometimes terrifying, but always inspiring. She has led two Ministers and a Department, all of whom have worked equally hard, and I congratulate them all. The Bill is a suitable finale for their first term of office, and I thank them all for their work.

I welcome the reassurances that I have had from the Minister that there will be no more tied aid and no more aid for trade from the Government. He provided those reassurances many times, which is just what my

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amendment was intended to make him do, and I am delighted that he did it. My beady eyes will be on the Department to ensure that it sticks to those worthy ideals.

Those ideals will depend a great deal on co-ordination with other Government Departments, which is a theme to which I have returned many times during this Parliament. It is all very well DFID having great purposes and being determined to relieve poverty, but those ideals must be backed by the Foreign Office, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Defence and No. 10 Downing street, and I hope that they will remember that.

I use as an example the fact that we still await a decision on export credit guarantees for the Ilisu dam. If those are granted to Balfour Beatty for that project, other Departments will be going against DFID's ideals, because we know that that project will create poverty and hardship, which, presumably, DFID will then have to alleviate. Therefore, co-ordination between Departments is important.

I have constantly asked for such co-ordination in the area of conflict prevention and arms control, which is another theme to which I have returned over and over again in this Parliament. On that point, I can end on a good note because the draft Bill on the control of arms has been published. I doubt whether I shall understand much of it without many people to help me out, but I shall take it home for Easter, and I thank the Government from the bottom of my heart for publishing it. We have waited for four years to see it and now at last it is here.

Lastly, I return to the theme of the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells). The proportion of GNP that we spend on aid is interesting. Looking at a House of Commons paper on international development I saw, sadly, that in 1999, under this Government, that fell to 0.23 per cent. It is slowly rising and the intention is that it should continue to rise, and I am well aware that it is at the highest level in real terms for many years, but if we are to continue increasing the proportion of GNP that we spend on aid at the same rate as we are doing at the moment, it will take 50 years to achieve the 0.7 per cent. that is recommended by the United Nations, and I ask the Secretary of State and the Minister to reflect on that. I do not want to wait 50 years to equal some Scandinavian countries which are already spending 0.7 per cent. of their GNP.

It is essential that we do that. The relief of poverty is not only the right thing to do, but, for all the reasons that the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) gave, it is in our interests and in the interests of our children and grandchildren that we take a firm stand on development and ensure that poverty is alleviated worldwide. I commend the Bill to the House.

3.44 pm

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): Like other hon. Members, I welcome the Bill for the simple reason that, as has been said, for 18 years nothing at all was done. It is at the centre of the Government's thinking. The international conference on the abolition of child poverty in February was attended by the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, as well as many international guests. The Chancellor's presence demonstrated that this is a serious issue, which is at the heart of Government, and that is a consequence of the Bill. I congratulate the Chancellor and the Secretary of State on that.

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Much has been made of good government, particularly by the Opposition, but this is a humanitarian issue. There are instances where Governments are disengaged from the community and it is important that we put resources in on the ground. We should never forget that 30,000 children die needlessly every day for lack of access to clean water, proper sanitation and basic medicines. The humanitarian case overrides the consideration of good government.

The other big issue on which the Secretary of State and others should focus now is international trade. Trade barriers cost poorer countries £500 million a year, 14 times more than they receive in overseas aid. The next big battle for the Government will be to ensure that the trade barriers are reduced and that free trade is allowed for third-world countries.

The other important aspect is alternative development strategies. They are complex, but it is important not simply to take the word of third-world Governments and others that something is being done. If we are to ensure that anti-poverty strategies are at the heart of our approach, we need alternative development strategies, which render individuals, campesinos and peasants, the opportunity to forge a living. In the previous debate, drugs from South America and elsewhere were mentioned, but it is no use eliminating drugs if people are not given the encouragement of economic support.

Lastly, perhaps because of my background, I come to education, which is the best anti-poverty strategy that there is. We should not forget that 130 million children in the world, two thirds of whom are girls, do not attend primary school.

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