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7.1 pm

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): Just after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, I made a speech to my party conference and reflected on the plight of the Afghan people, who were engulfed in 20 years of civil war and for three years had suffered drought and famine. It was at the same time that I talked about bombing Afghanistan with food. I was interested and relieved to see today that the World Food Programme is talking of airlifting food during the winter.

Millions of people had been on the verge of starvation. The aid agencies warned of impending catastrophe for months, yet hardly anyone in the world was listening. In 1999-2000 the United Kingdom bilateral and multilateral aid to Afghanistan was less than £6 million. That was quite good by international standards. Between 1997 and 11 September this year, £32 million of humanitarian assistance went to Afghanistan, but that was mainly to the refugees already escaping to Pakistan and Iran.

In my role as international development spokesman for my party, I am struck by one sad fact over and over again. International development issues catch the world's attention only when it is far too late; when the emergency occurs, it is too late. In the case of Afghanistan, we paid attention only after the horrific attack on the world's richest country on 11 September.

Before I became a Member of Parliament I was a doctor, as many hon. Members know, and I always found that prevention was better than cure. Yet the health service still ploughs masses of money into heart surgery, brain surgery and incredible high-tech dramatic stuff, not into the unglamorous health promotion and prevention that would stop the diseases happening. How true that is, too, for international development. Prevention is the unglamorous bit; the treatment is the thing that catches the world's attention.

We have a brilliant Department for International Development. I acknowledge that it is respected all over the world, and I have heard compliments paid to it all over the world. We have a Secretary of State who never pulls her punches, and even calls me friend on occasions, yet the United Nations target for spending on international development is 0.7 per cent. of GNP, as we all keep telling each other, and few countries have reached that target. We certainly have not. Attempts are being made, but we certainly have not got there. The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), the Chairman of the Select Committee on International Development, said that the United States of America of all countries could probably afford to increase substantially the proportion of GNP that it gives to development. The point was well made.

Without a financial commitment wholeheartedly and generously funded before emergencies occur, the world can only hope to see more wars, more poverty, more famine, more refugees roaming the world—most of them women and children—and more asylum seekers struggling to escape to a better life. That is why the Bill is so important. It states clearly, although boringly at times, what we are about—reducing poverty, furthering sustainable development and improving the welfare of people all over the world. That the other place could not

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pass the Bill in July amazes me, but then the antics of the Conservatives are a mystery to everyone, even the Conservatives.

Mrs. Spelman: It had run out of time.

Dr. Tonge: Nevertheless, it could have gone through.

The Secretary of State referred to the problem that the debate last week in the other place was almost entirely on coercive family planning in China. The general tenets of the Bill were not addressed. I disagree with the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman). We should not let wonderful international family planning and reproductive health programmes that are helping to fight AIDs, executed by the United Nations Population Fund, the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International—organisations all dear to my heart—be hijacked by people who have a particular and very sincere religious conviction. That is the basis of the problem.

I have some reservations about the Bill. I refer the House to the debate in March this year when the Bill had its first Second Reading for details of those. I was most concerned then about tied aid. The Pergau dam scandal sticks in all our minds and hearts, and we will never forget it. The then Under-Secretary of State for International Development was most helpful and organised a party of civil servants from the Department for International Development and the Treasury to meet me in private and apply the thumbscrews to make sure that I fully understood the Bill. I guess that they almost convinced me that the Bill was tied aid-proof, but just in case I asked a young woman lawyer of my acquaintance, Alison Griffiths—watch that name—to approach the matter independently. She did not have a background in development. She did not listen to me first; neither did she listen to DFID or any of the debates. I quote her remarks for hon. Members' interest. She said:

I therefore was able to rest my case. I thank everyone for the efforts that they have made to convince me, but I hope that when the Minister replies we will have one more ministerial pronouncement that tied aid will never appear again in this country.

Will the Secretary of State tell us whether her Department has had to make any promises of aid to any of the countries of the coalition supporting the action in Afghanistan and, if so, where and how it could be covered by the Bill? I discount the offers of debt relief and humanitarian relief of course, but it is important to establish who is paying, especially for debt relief to Pakistan and humanitarian aid to refugees inside and outside Afghanistan. I hope that the money is not all coming out of the budget of DFID.

Clare Short: The hon. Lady is right to say that we were making commitments to Afghanistan, but they were not massive. We had difficulty spending our money in Afghanistan because UK nationals were targets; we were trying to build up our programme, but underspending.

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I have had an extra £15 million from the Treasury in addition to my normal budget. She always asks this question. It is good to be clear.

We have made commitments to support Pakistan's continuing reform agenda, but that is not a reward for supporting the coalition. Since its formation as a state, Pakistan has been so misgoverned, plundered and corrupted. For example, it has never completed an International Monetary Fund-World Bank programme. A major reform effort of enormous importance to a very poor country is under way, and I have made commitments that are tied to that continuing reform effort. They are not a reward for the position taken on Afghanistan, but there is a danger that Pakistan could be destabilised by the crisis in Afghanistan. That would be a tragedy because there is a serious reform effort under way.

Dr. Tonge: I entirely agree with the Secretary of State's worries about Pakistan's being destabilised by the current action, and I thank her very much for that useful explanation.

The other reservations about the Bill will be dealt with, yet again, in Committee, and I hope that it will soon become law. That will be a proud moment for the Secretary of State; it will be the first international development Act of Parliament since 1980, and I think that the previous Chairman of the International Development Committee said that that Act was a pretty pathetic measure. I remind the hon. Member for Meriden that 18 years of Conservative government brought none of the measures on bribery, arms control or tied aid that she suggested in her speech. None of those issues were addressed, and I am delighted by the conversion that has taken place in the Conservative party.

Mrs. Spelman: Following that observation, I hope that the hon. Lady will join me in congratulating my former right hon. Friend, John Major, on his efforts to raise debt relief and help for poorer nations higher up the agenda.

Dr. Tonge: Indeed, and I have acknowledged that fact in the other speeches on debt that I have made in the House.

I should like to remind the House what the Prime Minister said at the Labour party conference. While teaching the world to sing and in talking about Africa, he said that we must

He said all those wonderful things, so we have to make further progress on debt. More money needs to go into the aid budget, and we need to reform the WTO and to have tighter export controls on arms, which will be discussed during the remaining stages of the Export Control Bill tomorrow—all of which involves doing all those things. It requires joined-up government, so that Departments act together to prevent catastrophes from happening.

The Prime Minister went on to say:

which the Conservatives are fond of mentioning,

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all very good stuff, but let us remember that those faults can also be found in many of the countries that form the coalition against terrorism. That is conveniently forgotten at the moment, perhaps for very good reasons, but we must be careful not to apply double standards because that will not help us achieve the development goals.

The Prime Minister then said:

indeed it is—

Indeed, it will become deeper and angrier, not just in Africa, and my children and grandchildren will reap the harvest. Let us hope that that was not just an attack of self-righteousness on his part, but a genuine change of direction, which will put the Bill and international development at the top of agenda for the rest of this Parliament.

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