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6 pm

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): It is good to have an opportunity to debate the White Paper, especially as the previous international development White Paper was not discussed on the Floor of the House. I am especially pleased to take part in the debate because international development is one of the most important issues in my constituency. In Reading, East, only banning hunting has generated more letters. I do not know whether that is unusual. That interest was highlighted when the previous Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), visited Reading last autumn. We had one of the best--and best attended--public meetings for some time.

Each July, music, arts and food from around the world can be experienced in Reading at the famous world of music, arts and dance--WOMAD--festival. There is a

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standing invitation to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to join me and the world on the banks of Thames this July.

Reading's interest in the world is reflected in its many active voluntary groups, which campaign and work on international issues. I am pleased to have visited many of them in the four years that I have been a Member of Parliament. My views are informed by visits to such groups, including those of Reading Oxfam, Amnesty International and the World Development Movement. Two constituents in particular, John and Jackie Oversby, keep me informed about international development issues almost weekly. The people whom I have contacted have been delighted with the Government's and the Department's achievements so far, especially the leadership that we have shown on debt relief. However, they have anxieties about some other matters, which I shall outline shortly.

We should consider the White Paper against a background of positive progress on international development issues. Development assistance is 0.31 per cent. of gross domestic product and is moving back up to the target of 0.7 per cent. The previous Labour Government achieved 0.5 per cent., but the previous Conservative Government almost halved that figure, which dipped to 0.26 per cent. in 1997. We all welcome ending the practice of tying aid to trade.

The impact of economic growth on poverty is shown in the change in the number of poor people who live on a dollar a day. In east Asia and the Pacific, it fell from 452 million in 1990 to 257 million in 1998. It is expected to fall much further and that decline is most welcome. However, I am worried that the pattern has not been repeated elsewhere. Other hon. Members have also drawn attention to that. The average per capita income in African countries has fallen by more than half in relative terms since 1965. Not so many decades ago, many African countries were among the richer countries; that is no longer the case.

Reports from the World Bank show that the world is dividing into those who benefit from globalisation and those who do not. I should like to know the Department's plans for assessments to identify the impact of growth, trade and investment on poverty. I know that the Department has given some consideration to the problem of the increasing inequality in and between regions. Globalisation seems to have exacerbated those problems, and I am especially keen to know what thought has been given to them.

Growth offers a great chance to lift people out of poverty, and we need to ensure that everyone benefits from it. However, conflict is a great generator of poverty and inhibitor of growth. For example, Sudan has been in conflict for decades. The presence of oil reserves literally fuels the conflict.

Two years ago, I had the privilege of visiting Bangladesh with Population Concern, and I witnessed the difference in affluence that can occur in regions. In Bangladesh, a woman in the wealthiest fifth of the population is 16 times as likely to have trained assistance in child birth as a woman in the poorest fifth.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to assure me that the question of institutional reform will be addressed when we look at development assistance. European Union institutions have been far too slow in

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disbursing their funds. The Committee referred recently to the slow release of funds which meant that, for example, a director of an NGO working in Pakistan had to take out a personal loan to prevent a project from foundering because of the slow release of funds. That is unacceptable; we must have a payment code for the EU.

We must find ways to encourage the use of unspent funds--funds that are unspent because, for example, the conditions for disbursement are not there, as in Sudan. We must encourage the use of those funds, which may be just sitting in accounts, to benefit highly indebted poor countries.

Does my right hon. Friend support the World Wide Fund for Nature's call for land tenure reform to minimise poverty? There are suggestions about that subject in the White Paper. The WWF has also highlighted the devastating reduction in species diversity in many countries, which has been exacerbated by conflict and by unsustainable over-consumption by impoverished populations who have little choice in the matter. Does she agree that reduction in species diversity is a time bomb that could destroy the future of stable food supplies for the world's poor?

In my constituency, we have the BBC monitoring service at Caversham Park, where we listen to and, I hope, help to inform the entire world. I thank the House for listening to me and I thoroughly welcome the White Paper. I invite my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to visit my constituency, where she will be assured of a warm welcome and a listening ear.

6.6 pm

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): This is a very important debate on a vital issue, and it is a wake-up call. If we in the west do not take more interest at the highest political level, we will reap the whirlwind in the next century.

I have been reading a lot about the Spanish civil war and I have been struck by the divisions in European society in the early part of the previous century and by the huge cruelty engendered by civil wars within Europe as a result of grotesque inequalities of opportunity and wealth. In Europe, we have created a real consensus--there has also been a consensus in the debate--based on the belief that we should allow free enterprise to flourish and have effective social security, health and education systems for everybody. As we have been so successful, we have created far calmer societies where the enormous hatreds that spawned fascism, communism and civil wars have declined.

It is often said that the public are disillusioned with politics, but part of that disillusionment is because we are so successful. But while we have been successful within our own societies, the general political system has overlooked the massive divide between the developed and the developing world. If we do not take action soon, we could face enormous conflict throughout the next century.

Everybody here takes a great interest in the subject, and I do not need to remind the House of the enormous well of misery and despair; 1 billion people live on a dollar a day and 5,000 Africans have died from AIDS over the past few days. These facts are familiar to us.

Despite the tremendous consensus among those on the Front Benches, how much interest in the issue is there outside? We have had a splendid speech from the

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Secretary of State, but a lot of her natural supporters are falling away from her and support many of the sentiments expressed by the anti-globalisation activists. I am not referring to the rioters, whom only a tiny minority would support. There is no point in Members on both sides of the Chamber agreeing if support is being lost outside, so I am speaking to alert people of a conservative disposition--a right-wing disposition, even--to the fact that we have to handle the issue correctly.

Many people who share my prejudices and political instincts are worried about asylum seekers. We can have all the controls in the world--indeed, we can do whatever we like--but nature abhors a vacuum. If there are huge inequalities of wealth, the strength of a system does not matter, because no matter how many times people are thrown out of a country, they will come back again, and can we blame them? Many people of my disposition care passionately about defence, but we shall have to spend a lot more on it in the next century if we do not take the issue of inequality seriously.

I want to alert conservative-minded people so that they wake up to their responsibilities. It is easy for us to lecture people about paying more tax and my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) showed just how derisory is our contribution to development--0.3 per cent. of gross national product. However, will any of us tell our electorate in the next three weeks, "We're spending too much on the national health service and the pupil:teacher ratio"? No, we will not. Will we tell people that we will increase taxation? No, we will not. That is the reality of the situation.

We face an appalling dilemma, which has a moral aspect. From a Christian or any other perspective, how can we allow such a large proportion of the world to live in such abject poverty? Those who are not interested in morals should be interested in the threat to freedom, the defence threat or any other threat posed by allowing people to live in such dire poverty. However, none of us has the moral courage to ask our electorate to pay more tax.

I do not know what the solution is, but I must deal with three points, the first of which I made during interventions: there is a lot of scope for encouraging charitable giving. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) began the process with gift aid and I pay tribute to the Chancellor, who has widened its scope considerably, but we must ask ourselves why American society is so much more generous.

Charitable donations come off the tax bill of American citizens, which is a tremendous incentive, so they can say, "I do not believe in a lot of what the Government do, but if I give to charities I can decide which good causes my money goes to."

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