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5.47 pm

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): I start from the Christian position, which is that every human being is of equal value in God's eyes. We do not always live as if we believe that, but it is the Christian position and it drives us to have a responsibility for those less fortunate than ourselves. That responsibility carries a cost. In my view, the developed nations of the world have been playing at helping the poor of the world. Their bottom line is: how cheaply can we do this job? Can we invest a small enough percentage of our wealth so that our electors will not notice?

Let me give the House some figures. If someone in the United Kingdom earns the minimum wage, which from next October is to be set at £4.10 an hour, and works a 35-hour week for 48 weeks, he or she will earn £6,888. That is little enough. Goodness knows, I could not live on it. The present percentage spent on development is 0.3 per cent., which is just under £21. More important, 0.3 per cent. of a Member of Parliament's pay of almost £51,000 per annum is £150. I have no idea how my colleagues spend their money, but when I look at the price of a restaurant meal or an opera ticket, it makes me realise how small a proportion of the UK's national income we are prepared to devote to the poor of the world. We can and should do more. We should engage our population in the debate and stop pretending that we can look generous without cost to ourselves.

Secondly, we need to practise what we preach about empowering the poor. In Government agencies and NGOs there remains a culture of patronising the less well educated and the poor, and it is time that that stopped. Part of the problem stems from the understandable desire among aid agencies to protect their own way of life, their career prospects and sense of self-esteem, but few attitudes do more to perpetuate a culture of dependency or to fuel a sense of helpless envy and resentment.

Let me tell the House a true story. I know a black African who has considerable experience of development work in a number of different settings. He tells me that he was once asked to go to Ethiopia as a consultant. At meetings with white-led NGOs, he was treated with patronising condescension. As he said, that treatment would have been inexcusable if he had been, as they assumed, one of the Ethiopians whom the project was designed to help, but as he was a professional consultant, it was even less tolerable.

The Secretary of State has on many occasions made welcome and trenchant remarks about the contrast in overseas projects between the glossy new Land Rovers that are deemed to be indispensable to the aid workers and the inability to provide the local health workers with the bicycles that would allow them to be more effective. I sometimes think that too much development assistance is like that. A much greater proportion of our assistance budget should be ploughed into enabling local people to find the resources to enable them to take the skills that they have learned to other parts of their own country,

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and successful projects in one country should share their experience with other countries. Too little use is still made of the information revolution, and too much of the travelling to spread good practice in, for example, sub-Saharan Africa, is undertaken by white professionals.

One of the advantages of globalisation should be that it makes it much easier for development to be taken forward on the basis of south-to-south information exchange. I also look forward to much greater use being made in this country, where community development is mostly at a very primitive stage of evolution, of consultants from Africa, South America or other parts of the globe where community development has been carried to a much more sophisticated level. That implies, of course, that in coming years the huge development industry that has grown up since the end of the second world war will become increasingly controlled by organisations in the developing countries themselves and that the expatriate industry will shrink. That change will not be welcome to the international NGOs, which will resist it, however much their rhetoric claims the reverse.

That brings me to the issue that I raised in Westminster Hall earlier this year: the accountability of NGOs. I am glad that some of the bigger international NGOs are addressing that matter in a joint working group and I look forward to seeing the results of their endeavours. However, the fact remains that international development is an arena in which public compassion can be manipulated to secure funding for organisations whose agendas may be idiosyncratic and whose standards of work may be below what should be acceptable. If NGOs are to continue to play such a key role in the global development strategy, they need to subscribe to a code of conduct and to inspection.

In passing, it is worth noting that one possible benefit of globalisation could be that it makes the pooling of expertise and resources across some of the great international organisations such as the Christian Church easier to achieve. I understand that the budget of the worldwide Christian Church is three times as great as that of the United Nations Children's Fund, but, in terms both of standards and global reach, its contribution does not match that huge potential. Globalisation could help to change that.

Mr. Streeter: Before my hon. Friend moves on from that point, will he confirm that although rationalisation, mergers, acquisitions and pooling of resources have occurred in almost every other sector, they rarely--if ever--happen in the NGO community? Will he say a word about that?

Mr. Rowe: I could not agree more, but I think that the establishment of competitive organisations that must risk public compassion fatigue in order to obtain funds is a mistake.

I turn now to other aspects of globalisation. I should like to deal first with its impact on national sovereignties. When the United Nations was established, it was taken for granted that it could proceed only on the basis of the nation state. That remains the position and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future, but we should not ignore the considerable change that globalisation is bringing to the world in that regard.

The most obvious sign is the emergence of the great trading blocks. Few nations believe that they can continue to stand aside from membership of a trading area,

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although I realise that some of my hon. Friends believe that we should do so. As we all know, such membership carries rules that circumscribe the freedom of action of national Governments. This process will continue and accelerate, and there will come a time when the nation state is no longer seen as the best guarantor of liberty and prosperity.

The emergence of international criminal courts and many other institutional innovations are heralds of that change. It will be important to ensure that whatever takes the place of the nation state protects the interests of the poor. For example, that is why it is of cardinal importance that poor nations should be resourced to play a full and well-informed part in negotiations that involve international bodies such as the World Trade Organisation. It is no use the rich countries claiming that they are keen to help the poor and then skewing the international instruments of world trade in their own favour, either by accident or design.

As an element of the interaction between sovereignty and globalisation, the future of cultural diversity will be a key area of debate. For example, it is already clear that, in many countries and in many religious communities, practices have evolved over the centuries which are regarded by their practitioners as inalienable elements of their cultural identity. Yet in the modern globalised world, many of those practices are no longer regarded as acceptable. An extreme example of that is the fact that the Taliban's insistence that girls should not receive a modern education is almost universally condemned.

One of the defining moments of the new globalisation was the Beijing conference, at which almost every country on earth signed up to treating women in a way that flies in the face of many of the practices glorified with the name of culture and carried out in many places on earth.

In the United Kingdom, the practice of some immigrant families of coercing their daughters into marrying a man from their former home so as to preserve their traditional culture is repudiated both by the girls and by the vast majority of British citizens. Of course, those who cling to such practices are quick to cry "Racism" when they are rebuked, but it is vital for the world's health that we have a grown-up debate about such issues and are not paralysed by the fear of being automatically and wrongly branded as racist.

The mother tongue is another such global issue. The advantages to the world of having a lingua franca in which to transact business and international relations are clear, but there is are powerful arguments in the other direction about the advantages of diversity and the damage done to a people's diversity if their language is ignored.

Britain has enjoyed a huge advantage in speaking English, not least because it is the language of the most powerful and richest nation on earth, but that advantage is eroding fast. Already, English no longer commands more than half the internet transactions in the world. When China and India achieve internet access on the scale already enjoyed here, the position will change again.

In the USA, Spanish is growing faster than any other language. Unless we are to trust to technology to provide cheap, instantaneous translation, we shall need to have an international debate on this issue also. It matters to the poor because there is no doubt that many poor people will

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not be able to enjoy anything like equal opportunities if they are not taught in a language that commands international understanding, yet it is precisely the poor who need to have their cultural identity protected.

I am astonished at how little use is made of parliamentarians in international discourse. We can and must do better. For example, in the EU the scandal of the incompetent aid budget needs parliamentary attention at every level. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) instituted a meeting of the Chairs of International Development Committees. That is a start, but we should also be having regular dialogue with our opposite numbers in our fellow European Parliaments.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union should be taking a lead. There is no reason why international development should not feature much more prominently on their agendas. For example, there is no reason why parliamentary pressure should not be being applied in every country on a co-ordinated basis to encourage companies to assist their work forces to resist the ravages of AIDS or to deal with corruption, yet we do not do it.

In passing, I must confess to utter astonishment that when I asked the DFID if there were any opportunities for me to help with development education--on a part-time, voluntary, or even paid basis--once I had retired, it could think of only one, and that in two years' time. I do not suggest that I would be very good at it, but after four years on the International Development Committee, there might be an audience somewhere sufficiently ignorant to learn something even from me.

The global challenge of poverty is, above all, the challenge of children. Not all countries are like Cambodia, with 46 per cent. of their people under 15, but in Brazil, the Philippines, India and many other countries, the population is disproportionately young. If those children have no worthwhile education, no job and nowhere to live, they will steal, fight and emigrate, and we shall rue the day.

If we cannot hope to make globalisation work for the poor at nil or almost nil initial cost to ourselves, it will eventually cost us serious money. If we do not commit the resources, we shall fail the biggest moral test of the century. Moreover, we shall find ourselves paying out far more a little down the track as we try to contain global instability, global disease, global movements of population and, no doubt, a growing disenchantment with global capitalism and global democracy.

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