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4.11 pm

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter). I did not say that last time that I

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did so, because he did not deserve such comments, but I think that he is getting a little better. I was impressed with his optimism, as I think that the whole House was. Perhaps he went a bit over the top about what he would do in his first day in office, but I think that we can forgive him for that. As always, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State rose to the occasion and was massively impressive in leading the debate.

Having mentioned those two speeches, I hope that I can be forgiven for opening my remarks by referring to another speech that was made a long time ago. I am inspired to do so because one of the documents provided by the Department for International Development refers to the commanding heights of the global economy. I suddenly realised on reading those words that it had rightly become fashionable again to quote Aneurin Bevan. I hope that I might also be allowed to introduce a bit of empiricism, as I want to refer to the first Labour party conference that I ever attended. Indeed, I made my first speech at the conference. The Leader of the Opposition made his first such speech at 16, but I was an elder statesman, as I made mine at the age of 18.

However, the conference was remembered not so much for my speech as for what was, sadly, the last speech of Aneurin Bevan. I think that he died seven or eight months later. I want to draw to the attention of the House to the following point: Aneurin Bevan said that, in his experience, the burdens of public office were far too heavy to be borne for trivial ends. I genuinely believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has taken that message on board. Her Department is not about red boxes and chauffeur-driven cars. The work that is going on in the Department at Victoria--and, if I may say so, at East Kilbride--and elsewhere is constructive and is based on responding to the modern world and the challenges that are presented by the universe of today.

The White Paper reflects those views. It is practical and relevant, but it is also thematic in terms of tackling poverty and of grasping the possibility of promoting global social justice. My right hon. Friend will agree that those two aims often go together. The White Paper raises issues such as humanitarian relief, education, health and the great problem of world debt, but it also does something else to which this debate has added: it challenges us to remember that there is still a poverty of ideas.

That is why I believe that the media have not quite caught up with the need to respond to the problems, although in the very nature of things, they have made a substantial contribution in bringing those problems into people's living rooms. Among other things, that explains why international development has taken off in the current Parliament. Day after day, people are seeing on their television sets starvation in Ethiopia and the tragedies in India, El Salvador, Mozambique, Kosovo and East Timor. They rightly expect the sort of response that the Government have provided. Tragically, they are seeing fratricidal warfare in Rwanda, Burundi and elsewhere, and they know that we must deal with the consequences of those terrible situations. They have also seen the obscenity of landmines in Angola and Afghanistan. I think that they genuinely welcome the progress that the Government are making in that regard.

The media are to be commended for bringing those issues to people's homes and into the public domain, but they are failing by not examining as they should the

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question of how we can deal constructively with those problems. Their failure to give full coverage to the White Paper shows that they must catch up on that.

Nevertheless, the White Paper, the Government's thinking and the progress that has been made in the past four years have given me great hope. People want the sort of matters that have been raised, including those that are relevant to the environment, to be addressed. When President Bush made his announcement about his Administration's attitude to the Kyoto protocol, there was an instinctive and genuine feeling of revulsion throughout this country. That feeling was rightly reflected in the House. Apart from the fact that we expect better of a great nation--I am not anti-American in any sense--we also know that more than 77 per cent. of people, if the opinion polls are to be believed, disagree profoundly with the President on this matter. I do not believe that the production of 20 per cent. of carbon dioxide emissions in a country where 4 per cent. of the world population live is acceptable.

The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) made important points about the environment during the recent proceedings of the Standing Committee on the draft Asian Development Bank (Seventh Replenishment of the Asian Development Fund) Order 2001. I think that Cambodia was very much in his mind and I am delighted that these matters are now being addressed.

I am also delighted about the genuine inclusiveness in the Department for International Development. That inclusiveness is seen in its work with NGOs and charitable organisations, which is to the advantage of both. The organisations include Oxfam, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, Christian Aid, War on Want and many more. We have gained from such pluralism as we approach international affairs in the way that the White Paper sets out.

For example, I am grateful to CAFOD for the information that it has given us on Peru. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will bring us up to date on that later. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State replied to a written question that I tabled a week or so ago. Less than a year ago, there was no democracy in Peru and the election was rigged, so it is encouraging to hear from CAFOD that the Minister for Women's Affairs in Peru, Susana Villaran, has set up a truth commission and that her Ministry is assessing the plight of about 600,000 people who were displaced by political violence.

We want to address such matters and we want the international community to be involved in seeking a solution. That dialogue will continue.

I welcome the fact that the Government--my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State rightly referred to this today--are committed to an aid budget that will increase by 45 per cent. in real terms between 1997 and 2003-04, and have refocused all the UK's development effort on the reduction of extreme poverty. I am glad that my right hon. Friend constantly underlines that challenge to extreme poverty wherever we find it in whatever part of the world.

We have led the world in dealing with the dreadful problem of debt repayment and its implications for the poorest people in the poorest countries. I do not talk with any sense of complacency, because I know that that view would not be shared by those on the Front Bench.

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However well we happen to be doing, organisations such as Oxfam continue to remind us of the challenges that lie ahead.

For example, Oxfam, in a parliamentary briefing, states:

Oxfam makes a relevant point.

Clare Short: Of the 22 countries receiving debt relief under the HIPC initiative, which is designed to remove the overhang of debt so that they can borrow and trade sensibly and use aid and their own revenues for other purposes, all, on average, spend less than 11 per cent. of their revenue on debt relief--that is lower than the rest of the developing countries. If we focus only on the heavily indebted poor countries and on debt, we start distorting need. In the case of Zambia, President Chiluba is talking about breaching or changing the constitution, going for a third term and ripping up the agreed economic reform programme that brought debt relief to Zambia. That is the threat to Zambia--bad governance. We must go on with the debt relief programme, but the obsession with having more and more debt relief for a small number of countries is getting a bit out of proportion.

Mr. Clarke: I am delighted by my right hon. Friend's response, and the House and Oxfam will take on board the important points that she has made. However, I hope that she will forgive me for quoting from another parliamentary briefing from Oxfam on the related but equally important subject of global education. It states:

My right hon. Friend has seen that as a huge challenge, particularly remembering the role of women; women seeking emancipation, and rightly so--the poorest people in the poorest countries. The Government's response is progressive.

The hon. Member for South-West Devon referred to institutions such as the EU, the World Bank, the IMF and the United Nations and its agencies. It may be that I and many others share some of his criticisms, but the main thrust of such international organisations, including the EU, cannot be changed by giving the impression that we are half in and half out. In such a situation, nobody takes us seriously. We made a grave mistake in leaving UNESCO, for all its faults. I am glad that we are back. We should be in there fighting--in the EU, in the UN, and playing our part in seeking the transparency and improvement in the World Bank, the IMF and elsewhere, as the White Paper tells us. That is the way to achieve our objectives, not self-imposed isolationism, for which the hon. Gentleman seemed to argue.

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International development is a wonderful subject, but there are difficulties, some of which I have seen for myself, as have other hon. Members. It was no great pleasure to stand by Lake Victoria and see bodies floating down from the terrible carnage in Rwanda, and to see how the locals had to deal with mass graves and the pollution of their rivers and their fish, upon which they were almost exclusively dependent for their food supply. That is the negative side of our work. That was sad and something that we wanted to erase, and it is right that we should continue to seek to do so.

I want to end on a more positive note by remembering two countries where tremendous progress has been made. The first is northern Iraq. The right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) has not been given the credit that he deserves for setting up the safe havens. Having visited Iraq in the early stages and then again about 18 months ago, I could see the transformation in that country, much of it due to the UN, which is extremely commendable. It is a remarkable and welcome change.

But for me, in this Parliament, and perhaps in the previous one, my greatest memory was of visiting South Africa in the week when we saw almost a miracle--the democratic election of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid and oppression, the progress for which we are all now striving. With that came the message that, if Mandela can spend 27 years in prison, as he did, and yet come out with such huge optimism, as we in Britain saw this week, what we see in the White Paper is inspiring to us all and I warmly and genuinely congratulate my right hon. Friend.

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