Previous SectionIndexHome Page

7.15 pm

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West): In introducing the Bill, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State quoted the fact that the world population is now 6 billion, of whom 1.2 billion live in extreme poverty and 2.8 billion—almost half—live on less than $2 a day, but we sometimes become phased by the scale of the challenge and we lose perspective, so I should like to express the challenge in other terms. If we were to shrink the world to just 100 people, there would be 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 north or south Americans and 8 Africans. Some 70 of those people would be illiterate, 80 would live in substandard housing, one person would own a computer and just six people—all Americans—would possess 59 per cent. of the world's wealth, and 50 would suffer from serious malnutrition.

In considering those 100 people, I concur with my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge). Indeed, the Prime Minister, in his initiative, has insisted that if we do not include those eight Africans within our globe, we shall simply stack up problems for the future, and conflicts elsewhere will come right into the hearts of our neighbourhoods—it is a very small world these days. Our globe seems smaller and is more interrelated and vulnerable than perhaps we realised before 11 September, but we all now know that.

I shall repeat some of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke), who referred to the "State of the World's Children 2002". That report said that child malnutrition rates decreased by 17 per cent. during the previous decade, but the figure was only 17 per cent.—the target was 50 per cent. In sub-Saharan Africa, the absolute number of malnourished children increased and life expectancy at birth is now 47 years. Lives are shorter, not longer than they were in 1980, and the figure is going in the wrong direction compared with a life expectancy of about 78 years in rest of the world.

In all the World Bank's scenarios, which were published early in the spring of this year, the number of people living in poverty in Africa was estimated to increase by 2015—the crucial target date for the UN's international development goals. In other words, the needs

7 Nov 2001 : Column 300

of the people of Africa are massively increasing. I simply suggest that sometimes aid inevitably follows the latest crisis, and as our attention inevitably turns to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the whole of that region, it is important to do our best to keep a focus on the increasing needs of Africa so that they are not lost from the agenda.

I welcome this straightforward but rather limited Bill. Its purpose is clearly defined as ensuring that development assistance is focused on reducing poverty, which is absolutely welcome. The Government have made excellent progress in international development. The Prime Minister stressed international justice and launched a new Africa initiative. At the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the Chancellor stressed the need to address poverty reduction internationally, and he has campaigned on debt. The Secretary of State is now known internationally as a champion of international development.

In December, the Department for International Development published the paper, "Eliminating World Poverty: Making Globalisation Work for the Poor". I had the privilege to represent the Government in south-east Asian countries at that time, and the document received universal acclaim from poor countries who described it as groundbreaking because it set an agenda for the 21st century. The words are in place; we now have to turn them into action.

The Bill is part of that process. Rather than defining the scope of development, it deals specifically with the authority to spend, and I want to focus on that. Some 25 per cent. of the Department's spending is through the European Union and the Commission. I was involved in such matters 25 years ago when the, European Court of Auditors described the spending of DGVIII, the development Directorate-General in the late 1970s and early 1980s as having weaknesses and shortcomings. That description appears in reports today. So the European Commission has not made much progress 25 years on in reforming the management of aid programmes. That becomes a greater and more urgent challenge with enlargement. The European Union needs to get a grip on those programmes, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend's Department will play a role in that.

I also put down a marker on the need to reform the institutions of the United Nations. In addition to political reform of the Security Council, we need to reform its management of programmes. We need constantly to review and assess how they are performing. People often shout for UN help, but we need to consider the systems by which it delivers.

Clare Short: Nothing can replace the UN; it is very important. It has moral legitimacy and represents the whole world. However, many of its institutions are inefficient. We have published a series of strategies for each UN agency that we fund on how the reform agenda must progress. We are using the leverage of our resources to help drive that forward. It is important to achieve that.

Mr. Battle: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that clarification. In the same way as we have given leadership in respect of the principles of international development, that leadership is crucial in their implementation, whether in EU or UN organisations.

Clause 6(3) deals with shareholder power, and I was grateful for my right hon. Friend's illumination of what that new power might entail. It is an imaginative instrument.

7 Nov 2001 : Column 301

Opposition Members referred to the Commonwealth Development Corporation, and I, too, am worried that it has become a venture capital organisation that has lost its focus on poverty. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend says absolutely not. Can we keep an eye on it as we keep an eye on the UN and the Commission? We need to watch how it is used, because it is an important instrument.

Clause 4(2) relates to development education, which is becoming more important. It might sound surprising, but it is amazing how many people now know where Afghanistan is and could say that Pakistan is its neighbour. A few weeks ago, they would not have known that basic geography. There is a thirst and hunger for information about the corners of our globe that have been neglected. The network of development education centres that work with schools is a good template, but they need support. I encourage my right hon. Friend to do all that she can to ensure that they receive a solid underpinning.

Let us take that idea a stage further and consider not only attaching development education to school curriculums, with the help of the Department for Education and Skills, but building it into adult and further education. Adult education centres, colleges and institutions, including those in my constituency, which offer a range of courses such as languages, computer skills and hobbies could also offer development education. There is a need for that information because they cannot get it from a few short news bulletins on the radio and television.

It is vital to keep development spending at the top of the agenda. We need international support for it and for development programmes. The Bill is about the authority to spend. Development education could encourage discussions on larger portmanteau terms, such as sustainable development and poverty. There is a welcome debate to be had on what we mean by poverty. We could refer to Amartya Sen's ideas on poverty, such as capabilities and functioning, or to the human development approach. The debate could include a discussion on whether sustainable development relates only to environment or whether it has a more holistic approach. I like the Kenyan proverb on sustainable development which says that we do not inherit the world from our parents; we have only got it on loan for our children. The link through the generations can also be built into development education. We need to get support for more practical commitment.

The Bill's power is the authority to spend. The percentage of gross national product spent by the Government on development assistance is encouraging. The trend of cuts has been reversed. Between 1979 and 1997 we were well below the commitment to 0.7 per cent. Indeed, we constantly moved away from it. Had we continued the spending trend of the percentage of GNP that the Conservative Government inherited in 1979, we would be much closer to that target. Instead, however, we have 20 years to make up. I hope that my right hon. Friend knows that she has support in the House and the country as a whole to campaign to increase that proportion. The Dutch Government recently legislated that aid will be 0.8 per cent. of GNP. We hear much about the 2015 international development targets, but can we set firm mid-term goals for reaching that GNP target?

I mentioned in my caricature of a shrunken world the six Americans who would own a large amount of the world's wealth. Tables for development assistance show that the United States is a substantial donor, second only

7 Nov 2001 : Column 302

to Japan, giving $9.58 billion. We give about $4.5 billion. However, in percentage terms, the United States gives only 0.1 per cent. of its gross domestic product. If it doubled that, it would be a massive increase. Perhaps by making an effort to increase our percentage we could encourage the United States to do the same. The percentage of 0.7 per cent. should remain the target figure. It is important and adds bite to the words and intentions, and enables us to carry the programmes forward.

Development is about tackling global poverty by moving from tied aid to poverty reduction, and that is most welcome. In the 1960s we had the UN decade to increase growth by 5 per cent. In the 1970s the target was set at 0.7 per cent. Neither of those were reached. In the first decade of this millennium we have the White Paper and the Bill. They should allow us to shift the debate to a higher plain and to canvass more support. International development is a centre-stage concern. Despite emerging crises, it could remain there, but we need to deepen and broaden the debate. We do not want it to be a technical debate; rather, we want it to receive public support. We can get wider support in Britain's poorer communities which understand that our world is interlinked. Our sign of serious intent is that we will put positive programmes into practice, as well as issuing policy statements.

It was encouraging that 24 million people from all walks of life around the world signed up to the Jubilee 2000 campaign. People have good spirits and good hearts, and are taking international development seriously. Perhaps the Bill, with its development assistance, is a step towards genuine development co-operation in the 21st century.

Next Section

IndexHome Page