Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Simon Thomas: Does the hon. Gentleman know whether that $200 million is in addition to projected spending by the Department for International Development? Does he agree that it must be truly additional if it is to have the effect that he wants?

Tony Baldry: It is one of the characteristics of international development debates that those who

7 Nov 2001 : Column 307

participate collectively exhort International Development Ministers to try to extract as much money as possible from their Treasury colleagues.

One of the useful aspects of the initiatives on debt is that the International Development Committee has, on occasion, been able to bring the Chancellor before it to talk about international development. There is no doubt that the current Chancellor, like his predecessor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), is genuinely interested and keen to see what he can do in respect of international development. One must hope that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is always as helpful and forthcoming.

Everything that we have discussed this evening requires a constant commitment to sustainable development, and clause 9 includes such a commitment. Interestingly, tomorrow the House will deal with the remaining stages of the Export Control Bill, in which the Government say that they cannot define sustainable development. Today, however, they can define sustainable development in the International Development Bill, which is slightly puzzling.

Of course it is right that our development budget focuses on the poor of the world and that that commitment is underpinned by legislation. The test of success, however, will not be the words of the Bill; it will be whether the international community collectively delivers on international obligations that are already in place.

7.51 pm

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall): Although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not in the Chamber, I congratulate her on the work that she has done so far and on her down-to-earth businesslike manner. She has given evidence to the Select Committee on International Development on many occasions, and I can confirm that the relationship between Ministers and the Committee is reasonably good.

As a member of the Select Committee, I have seen for myself the importance of the work done by the Department and have witnessed at first hand the terrible living conditions in African countries, in the Indian subcontinent and, this year on a visit with the Committee, in Vietnam and Cambodia. The Department's work seems to increase day by day, especially in light of the attacks on 11 September. It is now working hard to deliver aid to the people of Afghanistan, despite the obstacles created by the Taliban, both before and during the current bombing campaign. All sorts of difficulties are being created to obstruct the delivery of aid in Afghanistan.

Recent events have created both short-term challenges and long-term opportunities for the Department and other donors. Western nations have now begun to reassess the security implications of providing aid as a means of reducing resentment in developing countries. Reducing poverty may not completely eliminate the threat from fundamentalists such as Osama bin Laden who, after all, comes from a comfortable Saudi background and is a rich man, but it will address the squalid conditions that can act as a breeding ground for those whom the terrorist leaders exploit as their foot soldiers. We have recently seen that followers of bin Laden are indoctrinating young Muslims to fight for Islam.

7 Nov 2001 : Column 308

The new interest in aid needs to be directed wisely and correct decisions have to be made; the Bill consolidates the ability of the Secretary of State to ensure that that is done. The World Bank's yearly report, released this month, says that the long-term prospects of developing countries could be boosted significantly by removing barriers to trade. Its economists suggest that over the 10 years following liberalisation, world income could increase by as much as $2.8 trillion, with more than half those gains going to developing countries; that could result in 300 million more people being lifted out of poverty by 2015, in addition to the 600 million who would escape abject poverty as a result of normal growth. That forecast may be over-ambitious, but rich countries should be willing to dismantle the barriers that adversely affect developing countries, including subsidies, especially in agriculture, and high tariffs on selected products.

By addressing such issues, we can overcome what Patricio Aylwin, former President of Chile, last week told the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations was the "tragic failure" to reduce poverty. He said that the reasons for that failure are a lack of political commitment from richer countries, the failure of developing countries to help their own poor, and the wrong economic approaches. Recently, globalisation has become a controversial concept; we must work harder to make it work for the poor. Supporters of globalisation have to convince members of the anti lobby, some of whom are genuinely concerned about the effects of globalisation on developing and poor countries.

The events of 11 September may have reinvigorated the debate on aid, but they have also created dangers. For example, aid may now be granted on the ground of political expediency, rather than effectiveness in reducing poverty. In its rush to consolidate the coalition against terrorists, the west may be tempted to turn a blind eye to Government failures. The suggestion of generous debt relief for Pakistan—considered a key ally by the United States in the current campaign—from the Paris Club of governmental creditors is a cause for concern.

I urge the Secretary of State to use the discretionary powers granted to her in the Bill to ensure that this country rewards genuine efforts to reduce poverty. Alongside recognition for effective policies pursued by the Governments of developing nations, international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank should be allowed to act on their professional judgment, not on the political goals of their shareholders. For example, the IMF should not be pressured into relaxing its strict conditions for loans. That principle should also apply to bilateral aid. If a recipient knows that it has been guaranteed aid regardless of its actions, that can have the effect of creating a moral hazard.

In these increasingly difficult economic times, it is essential that we do not sideline international development.With countries across the globe sliding towards recession, and the already faltering United States economy being rocked further by the 11 September disaster, western nations may be tempted to lose interest in the near future. I hope that the Secretary of State will use the influence granted by the Bill to ensure that that does not happen. As has already been demonstrated in the USA under former President Bill Clinton, rich countries can be reluctant to reduce trade barriers, even in

7 Nov 2001 : Column 309

prosperous times. During a recession, they are more likely to want to erect barriers against the perceived threats to their industries.

I urge the Secretary of State to encourage developing countries to focus on effective, achievable measures and to keep their eye on the ball. At its meeting in July this year, the former Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union, made a distracting effort to relaunch itself with a single Parliament and currency—an absurd idea in a continent racked by war and famine. Attention should be focused on reducing poverty, not grandiose schemes that are currently unworkable.

It is in our power to make life better for hundreds of millions of people all over the world. However, we must make the right decisions and be willing to see our efforts through to the end. Current political circumstances present a challenge to the world's democracies. I am sure that the Secretary of State and her Department will face up to it. As my right hon. Friend continues her good work, I wish her every success in helping the world's poor and needy. I support the Bill.

8 pm

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): In a debate on the international development White Paper on 3 May, I said:

I was thinking of possible events in the coming decades; I did not think that we would reap the whirlwind so quickly. We face a crisis of terrorism in the world because poverty breeds fundamentalism, which breeds terrorism.

I want to repeat what I have said on several occasions in the House. It is vital that all of us—not only from left-wing but from Conservative traditions—articulate the point that the huge divide in living standards between the developed and the less developed world is one of the most important issues for the developed world. Those of us from a Conservative tradition must argue as strongly for, and be as committed to, the cause as those who speak from the left-wing tradition. It is therefore important for Conservatives to take an active interest in the debate.

The debate is rare because many of us can identify with much of what has been said by hon. Members of all parties. There is not much of a political divide so far. I want not simply to repeat what has already been said, but to deal with a special concern. I am as committed as anyone to reducing world poverty and to the Bill becoming law, but I have a particular anxiety, which I have expressed over many years in Adjournment debates, letters to high commissioners and heads of Government throughout the world, about human rights abuses, especially those based on religious persecution.

I asked the Secretary of State a question at the beginning of the debate because I wanted her to have an opportunity to tell the House that, in her anxiety about poverty, she acknowledged that human rights abuses and bad governance are often a root cause of it. I was pleased with her answer. She is a good Minister and when a Member of Parliament, even an Opposition Member, asks her a question, she tries to answer it. That is rather rare.

The Secretary of State did not say everything that I wanted her to say, but she made the important point that the world's poorest people often come from religious and

7 Nov 2001 : Column 310

ethnic minorities. However, she did not take the next step. Perhaps I am being unfair, and the Minister can answer my question when he winds up the debate, but the Secretary of State did not go as far as I would have liked and say, "When I or my Ministers make decisions on aid, good governance and the persecution of minorities are always at the forefront of our minds." I hope that they are, because I believe that that is vital.

I want to illustrate my point with three countries: Vietnam, Egypt and Burma. In a parliamentary answer on 4 March, the former Under-Secretary at the Department for International Development stated that the United Kingdom gave more than £5 million a year to Vietnam, and that the sum was

However, Vietnam has an appalling human rights record.

I shall give one example. The Montagnard people of the central highlands of Vietnam are being persecuted. Members of that minority are being deported, arrested and tortured. I should be amazed if any of the £5 million aid that we give to Vietnam goes anywhere near the Montagnard people. Peaceful protests have been broken up. The persecution of an indigenous hill tribe is happening in a country that we support.

The Montagnard Foundation, a human rights organisation, reports:

I leave my argument for the Minister to consider. When we give £5 million to Vietnam, what steps do we take to remind the Vietnamese Government, if they need reminding, of the cruel persecution that they visit on some of their population? Do we use aid as a lever? I doubt it, but I should be delighted to hear from the Minister if I am wrong.

I could take examples from many countries throughout the world, but let us consider Egypt, which is quite a good example because it is relatively well governed. In a parliamentary answer on 25 April, the former Under- Secretary stated:

We therefore give considerable aid to Egypt. Outright persecution or genocide is not happening there, but there is unacceptable discrimination against a religious minority—the Copts.

The Spectator states:

I choose the example of a country that is an ally to some extent, and which has a relatively moderate Government. The Government do not persecute the Copts, but there is unacceptable discrimination in, for example, employment.

7 Nov 2001 : Column 311

There is a well documented case that proves that the Egyptian Government are not doing enough to protect this minority in their homeland. Egypt is very different from Vietnam and Burma, but are the Government using the £4 million or £5 million that they give to Egypt every year as leverage? Do they raise such issues with the Egyptian Government?

I have raised the subject of Burma in Adjournment debates and at Question Time. It is a shocking example of human rights abuses. We are considering what must be described as the genocide of the Karen people and Shan people in eastern Burma. There are appalling tales of thousands of internally displaced people and of brutal actions by the Burmese Government. What should the UK Government do? Should they say to the Burmese Government, "You are so appalling and brutal that we will give you no aid," and thus lose all leverage? Or should they try to direct resources and aid to those who are being persecuted by that Government? To answer my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), who leads for the Opposition: I do not think that we need to give aid to the central Burmese Government, but I think that we can help the people who are being persecuted. To be fair to this Government, I acknowledge that they are giving humanitarian aid to these people, but the amounts of money concerned are relatively small, given the sheer scale of the humanitarian disaster that is unfolding in Burma.

Those are three examples, and I shall leave the matter there. This is a subject about which I feel very strongly. We must be committed to reducing world poverty, but unless we have the moral courage to insist, as we hand out aid, on good governance, on respect for human rights, and on a determination that religious minorities shall not be persecuted, we are going to lose a powerful mechanism for improving the lot of minorities all over the world. I hope that when the Bill becomes law, and when our whole focus is on reducing poverty, we will always bear in mind the fact that poverty exists in so many areas of the world not for historical reasons, and not just for economic reasons, but because these countries are plagued by brutal and corrupt Governments.

Next Section

IndexHome Page