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Of course the CDC's £1 billion should not be spent just on poverty alleviation, but poverty alleviation seems to be far distant from its objectives now. I see it as a publicly funded commercial enterprise that seeks returns with no demonstrable impact on poverty. That is uncomfortable.
Many CDC offices are being closed. The corporation's commitment to Africa certainly seems to be diminishing. Its chairman, Lord Cairns, insists that it can achieve its mission of realising attractive returns to shareholders. That will also have an effect of assisting social development. Yet the CDC's new investments are in urban services for a rich minority and rural areas are being ignored, although they are where 85 per cent. of the poverty that we seek to alleviate is found.
Britain's international development aims represent a force for good in the world, which is why the Bill is supported on both sides of the House. That cross-party consensus is good and right, but the Bill is not beyond improvement, and we should enhance the CDC's role and return it to its original objectiveto aid DFID in delivering its goals.
Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford): I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to take part in this debate. I feel privileged to follow so many thoughtful and positive contributions.
I have not always agreed with many things that the Secretary of State has said over the yearsour politics are very differentbut I have observed her closely in the five years that she has held her current post, and she has shown obvious dedication to the job. I commend her on that and on the determination that she is showing to try to alleviate poverty and to deal with many of the disastrous events in the world today. We have a duty, as a civilised nation, to do everything that we can to alleviate catastrophes, wherever they may occur in the world and whoever is affected. I am pleased that work is being done to further that aim.
I want to respond to the comments by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge); I certainly respect much of what she has said. However, I do not believe that the Conservative party has experienced a tremendous conversion to believing in helping the poor and in changing things to better the lives of people around the worldit has always held that view. Of course, 15 or 20 years ago things were very different. We were living in a different world, there was a cold war, and the west had economic difficulties. Many of those problems have been resolved, perhaps only to be replaced by new ones. Nevertheless, it has to be remembered that, 15 or 20 years ago, it was not quite so easy for countries such as ours to respond in the more positive way that economic prosperity has given us the opportunity to do, and I ask the hon. Lady to consider that in future debates on this topic.
The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) made a very valid point about the money that we pay towards the EU and the fact that so much is lost. I hope that the Government will reconsider those arrangements. I honestly believe that it is better for the Government to decide how to spend overseas aid, rather than for the money necessarily to go via the EU; we know that a lot of money is wasted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), made important and valid points about the persecution of religious minorities, and I urge the Secretary of State to consider that issue as well.
The Opposition spokesperson, my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), is not in the Chamber now, but I commend her on her very thoughtful and sincere remarks. I am impressed by her compassion, and I am proud to speak in support of much of what she said this evening. I join her in broadly welcoming the spirit of the Bill, but I have several important reservations and I should like to outline them this evening.
Our country has a long record of giving aid and taking an active and productive role in international development. We should be proud of that and seek to continue it. We should wholeheartedly subscribe to the principle of helping those who are trying to escape poverty and who will benefit from a helping hand to take them out of the trap that prevents them from being able to help themselves. Freedom brings prosperity. Aid is vital to that, but we need also to promote freedom.
The previous Conservative Government formed the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. Although not directly relevant to the Bill, I am proud to have played a part in helping to promote the ideas of freedom and democracy around the world in my role as chairman of the International Young Democrat Union and previously as co-ordinator for the freedom training programme, in conjunction with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, working in many countriesin particular Africa, eastern Europe, Latin America and, most recently, the Caribbean. That was a positive achievement by the Government, and it attracted all-party support. The right hon. Sir Geoffrey Pattie was instrumental in that, along with his counterparts in other parties.
A political system can make a big difference, as can an economic system. Aid is not simply the answer; other things need to happen for a country to prosper and for people to have opportunities. The free market economy, which almost all hon. Members accept, is the way forward for developing countries. Trade liberalisation is vital. We must work with all developing countries to help them and teach them the ways of the free market.
The Bill fails to acknowledge deeper issues that relate to corruption and the encouragement of good governance, which make it ambiguous and too narrow. The lack of an attempt to define poverty is the most striking flaw. I freely admit that I was not a Member when the first version was introduced in the previous Session, but I know that many hon. Members rightly questioned that omission. I shall not repeat those arguments at length, but it is important to observe the Government's inconsistency.
The Government feel competent enough to give a precise definition of development assistance and a broad definition of sustainable development, but are unable to define poverty, on which everything else hinges. Indeed, clause 1(1) is clear in stating that the Secretary of State may provide development assistance if that is
In theory, poverty could be anything from the unthinkable levels of starvation and deprivation suffered by approximately 1.2 billion people around the world who are forced to survive on less than $1 a day, to countries where the perceived standard of living, based merely on economic indicators, is deemed to be poor. With no clear boundaries, Governments may find themselves in troubled waters, unable to justify the point at which the line must be drawn.
I come now to a different but no less important aspect of the debate. The Bill significantly lacks measures to guarantee that any assistance will genuinely help those who most need it, and will not be diverted to those who may abuse it. The Government have consistently promised to be tough on corruption, and I commend them for thatyet, as far as I can see, the Bill contains no acknowledgement of the possibility of bribery and corruption, let alone any measures to tackle it. Furthermore, the Bill fails to focus on the importance of promoting good governance. It touches on the provision of assistance incorporating technical aid, particularly in the form of know-how, but it does not explicitly recognise the link that undoubtedly exists between good governance and positive change.
If, through our aid packages, we do not promote the ideas of good governance, we will have failed. We may have offered a short-term solution to the pressing problems caused by a natural disaster or a conflict, but we will not have delivered any lasting benefit. The International Development Committee reported last April that
Clare Short: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman was present for earlier speeches. There is no doubt that dealing with corruption and ensuring effective governance are crucial to development. The Bill gives the Government the flexibility to tackle corruption, develop effective governance, improve public services and try to resolve conflict. He is misleading us by suggesting that the Bill is not intended to deal with corruption, and I am surprised that he persists with that false analysis.
Mr. Rosindell: I am sure that much more can be discussed in Committee. My speech is intended to encourage the Government to improve the Bill, which, as I have already said, I very much support, as do the Opposition. I look forward to the Committee proceedings, and I hope that the Government will consider improvements and stronger measures.
The Bill presents the Government with an ideal opportunity to prove that they are serious about tackling corruption. To be serious, they must explicitly recognise, from the outset, that corruption is part of the problem, and where it exists it will only be worsened by the unconditional giving of material aid. All the evidence presented to the Select Committee indicated that it is commonplace for countries in receipt of material aid to waste up to 70 per cent. of resources through petty corruption because bureaucrats on exceedingly low pay have no choice but to resort to corrupt practices to provide for their families. That corruption, in turn, hurts the poorest the most.
When World Bank staff estimate that between 20 and 30 per cent. of development funds to Indonesia have been systematically diverted, and organisations such as Transparency International discover that the poor in countries such as Bangladesh have to make corrupt payments to receive health care and education, we know that there is a major problem that must not be ignored. When giving evidence to the International Development Committee, the Secretary of State admitted:
My final comments relate to the attitude taken towards the British overseas territories. We should not treat our overseas territories differently from any other part of the United Kingdom. I accept that the Bill is well intentioned and I support it, but I am concerned that we are treating our overseas territories differently. We should not do so. A disaster in, say, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, Montserrat, St. Helena or the Pitcairn Islands should be treated in exactly the same way as we would respond to a disaster in Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland. However, the Bill, while removing the condition of development aid being provided to reduce poverty, continues to refer to overseas territories as though they were foreign territories. They are not. They are British, and rightly so.