Previous SectionIndexHome Page

7.30 pm

Tony Baldry (Banbury): I am pleased to be able to follow the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle), a colleague on the International Development Committee, who made a powerful speech. I agreed with everything that he said. His caricature of the shrunken world was very effective, and the statistics that he gave on that world were particularly powerful.

The Bill seeks to signal that this country's international development budget is targeted at reducing poverty and is not intended to be a subsidy to UK exporters or UK businesses overseas. No one can dispute the urgency with which we need collectively to tackle poverty, and that urgency, I am sure, is shared by everyone in the Chamber, by Ministers and Opposition spokesmen alike and by every member of the Select Committee, which I am fortunate to chair. No amount of statistics can adequately portray the grinding, persistent poverty that so many fellow human beings have to endure. This September, I was fortunate enough to go to Burkina Faso as part of the Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation. I was struck by the exhaustion felt by so many people who are permanently on the margins of survival. It is sometimes difficult for us to imagine what that must be like.

Last Friday, the Financial Times observed in its editorial that

7 Nov 2001 : Column 303

The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) was slightly pessimistic. We now have an unprecedented opportunity to impress on decision makers throughout the world the importance of international development.

An article in The Observer last Sunday commented rather starkly that

That is an overstatement, but it is certainly true that we all inhabit one world, in which we are all interdependent, and there is a moral duty on those who have to help those who have not.

The Bill, in addition to authorising development aid, enables the Government to allocate funds for humanitarian help. At present, considerable collective thought and much media attention is rightly being devoted to the desperate humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. There are two important points that, in our natural and understandable concern for our fellow human beings, we should not overlook. In this, I support the comments of the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke).

First, the UN Secretary-General declared as long ago as June that Afghanistan was the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. The international community has been aware since the summer that some 5 million people in Afghanistan would be in difficulties this winter because of continuing conflict and persistent drought. As various NGOs have explained, they would have expected a huge crisis in Afghanistan this winter even if the events of 11 September had not occurred.

Secondly, no one wants conflict, but such conflict as is taking place in Afghanistan would be avoidable if the Taliban simply complied with their obligations to the United Nations and with the resolutions of the UN General Assembly and the Security Council, going back as far as 1999, which require them to hand over Osama bin Laden for trial. As the Secretary of State said, it behoves us all to uphold the moral authority of the United Nations. As a permanent member of the Security Council, this country has a particular duty to do so, and Parliament has a particular duty to support the Government in discharging that duty.

Another important part of Parliament's work is to ensure that the reality of Government action matches the rhetoric of promises made by Governments in the spotlight of major international summits and conferences. For example, wealthy countries have promised to ensure that developing countries achieve the target of universal primary education by 2015. That pledge is clear and unambiguous.

At the G8 meeting in Okinawa last year, the communiqué stated:

Parliamentarians, particularly those from G8 countries, have a duty to ensure that their Governments match reality to rhetoric because, despite the pledge, there seems to be little progress in ensuring that there is a global initiative to get all the world's children into schools. Today,

7 Nov 2001 : Column 304

125 million primary school-age children are not enrolled in school. Limited debt relief, inadequate aid and the failure of many countries to prioritise education are all barriers keeping children out of school.

Even where there has been debt relief, it has not gone far enough. Of the first 22 countries to receive debt relief, more than half will spend more servicing their debts this year than they will spend on basic education. It is estimated that achieving universal primary education in those countries will cost $1.5 billion a year, yet they will spend a combined $1.8 billion servicing their debts in 2001. The world's neediest countries need deeper debt relief. We must fulfil promises made on debt relief.

We had an interesting and detailed debate on debt last week in Westminster Hall, in which the Financial Secretary made clear the Government's commitment to the heavily indebted poor countries, or HIPC, initiative. Over the weekend, I was re-reading the Financial Secretary's remarks in Hansard. He gave a fair and accurate account of the HIPC process to date. It was less clear whether the Government considered such progress adequate and, if more were needed, what must be achieved and how. He tantalisingly told the House that the Government "want to go faster" and said:

However, he did not tell us what more they could do, where they could do it or how much faster they could do it.

We need clear, acknowledged milestones by which we can judge progress on debt relief initiatives, not just by the number of countries that benefit from debt relief, but by the extent to which they are doing so. This week, a parliamentary delegation from the Philippines has been visiting Westminster, as the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), the Father of the House, observed following a statement to the House this afternoon. On Monday evening, the President of the Senate in the Philippines, in a speech in Speaker's House, said that we need to stand shoulder to shoulder against international terrorism, but we also need to stand shoulder to shoulder against poverty.

The world's poorest countries need more aid. Between 1990 and 2000, aid from G7 nations fell, and overall is still falling. On average, G7 countries give only 0.19 per cent. of GDP to development aid—a pathetic amount. Indeed, every G7 country, with the exception, I am glad to say, of the UK, is now giving less development aid than it was a decade ago. It is fair to observe that the latest report by the development assistance committee of the OECD shows that, in volume, the UK is now the fourth-largest aid donor in the world and, for the first time for 40 years, is ahead of France.

However, as several hon. Members have commented, the DAC report also shows that the United States gives only 0.1 per cent. of gross national income in development aid. Collectively, we must work out how we can engage fellow legislators in the United States and persuade them that it is in the United States' interests to help to lift countries out of poverty. As the hon. Member for Leeds, West said, even if the United States simply doubled the percentage of GNI that goes to development aid, a substantial difference would be made to the total amount. Overall, the decline in aid from the international community seriously overshadows the modest extra sums that have been freed for poorer countries through the HIPC initiative.

7 Nov 2001 : Column 305

The universal declaration of human rights could not be clearer. It states:

but for millions of children that is an empty pledge. For them, access to education is not a human right, but an unaffordable privilege as parents face a multitude of fees, levies and payments. Let me give a simple, human illustration. In Burkina Faso, we met many street children—as one would in any poor country. When I asked why they were trying to raise money, many gave the interesting reply that they wanted to be able to pay their school fees. I do not think that they were dissembling; their answers were perfectly straightforward.

We must ensure that aid goes to those who need it most, because it does not always do so. I speak as one who in my party is known to be, to put it crudely, pro-European. The Bill does not cover the large sums of Department for International Development money that go to the European Commission as this country's contribution to European Union aid. Of that aid, the Commission allocates three times more to education in central and eastern Europe than to education in poor countries. That is not sustainable development. The issue must be systematically examined by Parliament. If the EU wants to give structural funds to accession countries hoping to enter the EU, a budget separate from the EU aid budget should be established.

What needs to be achieved is clear and straightforward, requiring no further meetings of the great and the good, and no further resolutions or promises. It simply requires countries to start delivering what they have already promised and agreed for the benefit of the world's children. As the Secretary of State said to me at the last International Development questions:

I entirely agree.

A further example of the need for Governments and the international community to deliver is the promises made at the 1995 world summit for social development in Copenhagen. The Secretary of State has stated her belief that the 2015 targets on poverty reduction will be met. I look forward to reading the detail of the letter on the subject that she sent me. We all agree that it is essential that we succeed in meeting those targets, but omens indicate that doing so will be difficult. Causes of concern include the fact that poverty in south Asia is falling at only half the rate needed to achieve the 2015 target.

At the 1995 world summit, Governments pledged to cut child death rates by two thirds by 2015. In fact, child mortality is falling at less than half the rate required to achieve that target. That is not some hypothetical future crisis: if today, Governments collectively were on track to meet the 2015 target, 1.7 million fewer children would die this year alone. I know that it is difficult to get one's head around such huge figures, but the deaths of those children are avoidable.

The crisis is especially stark in Africa. If current trends continue, almost 5 million children will die in Africa in 2015 alone—a terrifying and chilling but accurate statistic. The tragedy is that the world does not lack the resources needed to prevent children from dying unnecessarily, or failing to get into school and so not

7 Nov 2001 : Column 306

getting an education. What the world appears to lack is the leadership and the political will needed to translate commitments already made into positive action.

International development should include the encouragement of trade as well as the delivery of aid. Oxfam argues, rightly, that trade has

Oxfam calculates that every tiny 0.7 per cent. increase in exports from a developing country generates as much income as it receives each year in aid.

Decisions at the WTO conference at Doha will be important. The position was stated simply by the Financial Times in its editorial last Friday:

Strong stuff from the Financial Times.

The poor are often doubly handicapped in the board game of world trade. Often, the dice are loaded against them. To export, they have to do the equivalent of throwing a double six because of high tariffs set against them; and often they cannot get on to the board to compete at all because of subsidised food and commodities being dumped on their doorstep. We must remember that three quarters of the poorest people in the world live in rural areas and are largely dependent on agriculture.

I wish the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry every success at Doha. I listened carefully to what she had to say today, and I hope that on her return she will be able to tell the House that Doha was a success, but I fear that the omens are not good. The least developed countries group met last week in Geneva and expressed concern that none of its input was getting through to the Doha draft declaration. Perhaps proving the point that too little listening is taking place, Stuart Harbison, chairman of the WTO's general council, stated that in any event the draft declaration was now final.

As well as concerns about agriculture and dumping—whether it be the US dumping cheap steel abroad, or Europe dumping cheap sugar abroad—there is an on-going dispute about the developing world's lack of access to cheap medicines. The issues are complex, but the statistics are stark: tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS kill 5 million people each year, most in developing countries.

If we are not going to get agreement in the short term on relaxing TRIPS, we have to make sure that the global health fund is well funded, that it works, that it is operational as soon as possible, that countries—especially those with profitable pharmaceuticals industries—make worthwhile contributions and that we persuade pharmaceuticals companies to become involved and make an appropriate contribution. I acknowledge that the Government have given $200 million to the fund, but it must not be a one-off donation. The UK, which has a large and sophisticated pharmaceuticals industry, should be willing to give additional sums in due course.

Next Section

IndexHome Page