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6.18 pm

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): The events of 11 September have had a dramatic effect on the salience of international development, driving it up the international agenda. I wish to pay tribute to the work of the Secretary of State and her Department in keeping it high on the agenda. Since the House debated the earlier Bill, we are all much more aware of the need to redouble our efforts to close the gap between rich and poor nations. It is, as my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) said, a common goal. My purpose today is to build on his good work and to help us towards our common objective.

Britain has a strong record as a major donor of aid to the developing world. We take our international responsibilities seriously, and that has never been more apparent than in the present crisis. We bestride three spheres of influence, with our Commonwealth, as a member of the European Union, and with our special relationship with America. What we say today about the purpose of development aid sends an important signal to the wider world. Ours is one of the world's leading industrialised nations, so the percentage of gross domestic product that we are prepared to spend has a major impact. Both main political parties are committed to reaching the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent. of GDP on development aid, but the problem with raw percentages is that they take no account of the state of the economy. If an economy goes into recession, the percentage devoted to development aid may rise, even if the amount of cash falls. Those raw percentages often disguise a patchy picture of development aid provision around the world.

The Bill offers a rare opportunity to debate the fundamental objectives of our international development programme. Millions of pounds are spent in the poorest countries of the world every year, and it is right to debate what that money is spent on and what we want to achieve. However, debates on international development should be about more than the amount that we spend, although that is important. They should also focus on what we should be doing. If we know our overall objectives, we are better able to target our spending and assess its results.

A clear sense of our objectives will be vital at the Doha conference on international trade. Britain's voice will be listened to closely, as we are a trading nation. Again, both major political parties argue that globalisation can be a force for good in the developing world, as it opens up markets and opportunities for developing countries to expand their economies through greater trade with the economies in the developed world.

Even so, we must be wary of initiatives that have not been thought through properly. The everything but arms initiative sounded good, but more work needs to be done on its practical consequences for producers in developing countries and here. That is especially important in relation to sugar. Failure to understand the markets for international

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commodities and the interaction between developed and developing nations could mean that an initiative that sounds good could leave poorer countries worse off.

We welcome the statement that progress must be made on agricultural reform. We urge the Government to press their counterparts in Europe not to hold up the trade talks on that point.

There is a constant tension between the temptation of protectionism and the opportunities of free trade. We should take the lead in getting the matter right, simply because that is the right thing to do. In financial terms, opening up our markets and helping the developing world to achieve sustained economic growth through globalisation dwarfs all that the developed world offers in terms of direct aid and debt relief. However, that aid still adds up to vital relief. We must ensure that we spend our money in the right way. Critics sometimes uncharitably call that conscience money, but our aid in terms of debt relief is vital. I believe that it could be made still more effective, and we shall look for opportunities to achieve that with the Bill.

Debt relief is not a once-and-for-all action. The underlying causes of debt accumulation must be tackled, and we should direct our attention to them if we want to stamp out the cycle of debt. I urge the Government not to fall into the trap of saying that debt relief is complete: instead, they must continually audit the state of indebtedness of the countries that we help. What about the countries that do not qualify under the heavily indebted poor countries initiative? We must be careful not to exclude or ignore other ways of helping them. Our focus should be on sustainable development to reduce their poverty .

Unpayable debt is wrong because it restricts the ability of countries to move out of poverty. That brings us back to the core aim of the Bill. We agree that poverty reduction should be the central and foremost aim of the work of the Department for International Development. The Secretary of State referred earlier to the World Bank's view of progress in reducing the proportion of people living in poverty. No doubt that view was based on the world economic situation before 11 September. Is the World Bank's view that we are on target to meet the aim of reducing the number of countries in extreme poverty still true today?

Poverty means that people have no choices in life. It can make them victims of their surroundings, not masters of it. Poverty leads to powerlessness. It cuts people off from education and lays them open to human rights abuses. Similarly, in developing countries, millions of poor people die from diseases that compromise their immune systems and lay them open to opportunist infections that would not be fatal here.

The Bill will also need to stand the test of whether it will address the other problems that bedevil the developing world. Poverty reduction is the overarching aim, but will pursuit of that aim prevent proper attention being given to other key problems? For example, will poverty reduction give the Government better tools to tackle the appalling trade in young girls who are trafficked from places such as Ivory Coast to enter the European network of prostitution? Will it strengthen the

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Government's capacity to clamp down on illicit drug production? Will it stop the constant flow of arms that stokes battle in areas of conflict?

None of those matters are addressed directly by the aim of poverty reduction, but they are the cause of very real misery in the developing world. If some of them are addressed by other Government Departments, what is there in the Bill to combine their work more effectively with that of the Department for International Development?

I assure the House that any suggestions that we make with regard to the Bill are intended in an entirely constructive spirit. I am not in the business of opposition for its own sake. We want the aims of this Bill to be achieved, and any amendments that we try to make to it will merely be an attempt to make a good Bill work better. We have this rare opportunity to legislate on international development, and we must judge the proposed changes to the law against the test of whether they will make the delivery of aid more effective.

That is why at all previous stages of the Bill in the last Parliament, and in another place, we pressed for the incorporation of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development convention on bribery and corruption in UK law. The United Kingdom is one of the 34 signatory countries to that convention, but it is unique among developed countries for not implementing it.

Clare Short: The hon. Lady will know that the Queen's Speech contained a commitment to legislate to ensure that British law does not put implementation of the convention in doubt. I did not believe the early legal advice that stated that existing law would be sufficient in that regard. Will the Opposition give a commitment to support the legislation when it is brought forward? I accept that she may not be able to do so now, but such a commitment would mean that the legislation could be brought in much sooner.

Mrs. Spelman: I thank the Secretary of State for that intervention, as it enables me to go on to say what I had intended to say in any case. The Opposition very much support the early introduction of the OECD convention, and there is no substitute for striking while the iron is hot. The introduction of that convention could be incorporated in this Bill. In my limited experience of Parliament, I know that it is better to have a bird in the hand than to wait for one in the bush. We therefore have no hesitation in pressing the Government to use the Bill as a vehicle for the introduction of the OECD convention.

As a reinforcing argument, let us look at the comments of organisations criticising Britain's tardiness in introducing legislative enactment of the convention. I am sure that the Secretary of State will know that, in June this year, Lawrence Cockcroft, chairman of Transparency International, an organisation of anti-corruption activists, said:

I know that the right hon. Lady agrees that there is a need to act on the problem, as she told the Select Committee on International Development that the view of the OECD convention taken by the Government was damaging

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Britain's reputation. We can restore our reputation by using the Bill to implement the convention. That would be entirely consistent with the Bill's main aim, as I am convinced that it would lead to a reduction in poverty.

When the Bill was going through the House at the end of the last Parliament we were told that the main reason for not incorporating the convention was lack of time, but now the general election is out of the way, timing should be less of a problem. The Select Committee on International Development found that corruption was the No. 1 factor that deterred companies from investing in developing countries.

As the Government have ratified the convention, we should seize the opportunity to implement it by incorporating it in the Bill. Alternatively, with world events moving so unpredictably, and the need to introduce emergency legislation in response, perhaps we could use such legislation to implement the convention on bribery and corruption. Certainly we shall use the Committee stage as an opportunity to table an amendment that would make it possible for the Government to do that; I can give the right hon. Lady that undertaking.

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