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Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises an important issue, which is, I detect, supported by a number of others in the Chamber. He is aware that the Government are committed to trying to ensure not only that there is adequate funding for further and higher education, but that we make progress towards greater equality within that funding. I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills to his early-day motion, and I am sure that he will find opportunities to press his concern through one of the many ways open to him in the House.

Mr. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): The Leader of the House is aware that I have previously raised in this place the plight of cancer sufferers in my constituency, particularly women with breast cancer who face an unprecedented wait for radiotherapy following surgery. The most recent case is that of a lady in Battle. She was operated on after Christmas, but has been told that she must wait until June to begin radiotherapy treatment.

Unfortunately, that is by no means an isolated case. This morning, I met the president of the Royal College of Radiotherapists, who told me that, despite the crisis prevailing right across the country,

May we have a debate that clearly addresses the issue, so that the Government have an opportunity to reply and tackle the crisis head on?

Mr. Cook: My impression is that the House has not been short of opportunities to explore health issues and health provision, and I am sure that that will continue to be the case. The hon. Gentleman raises a precise issue, but I plainly cannot comment on his constituent's case. However, I am happy to communicate the particulars to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and to secure a reply.

On the general issue, I remind the House that the Government have increased cancer treatment funding and the number of cancer specialists. We shall continue to do so, and the results that we are securing show increased cancer survival rates. We want to build on that. That does not mean that every single case has improved, but it does mean that we must ensure that support services such as radiography are properly funded and properly developed. I would not want the hon. Gentleman's one case to obscure the general picture, which is more investment and more results for the cancer service.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): Although I had wanted to thank Mr. Speaker while he was in the Chair for providing lunch for my daughter as part of "bring your daughter to work" day, I am pleased that he has gone to meet the girls. Perhaps, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will convey my thanks to Mr. Speaker for hosting that event.

Young people will benefit eventually from the knowledge-based economy, which is at the heart of the Government's programme, but does the Leader of

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the House share my distress at today's Science and Technology Committee report, which points out that research and development in many science subjects will fall substantially next year because of the research assessment exercise? Will he bring the Minister responsible for science to the House soon for a long-overdue debate on science policy, so that we can redress deficiencies such as the 22 per cent. decrease in nursing research over the next year?

Mr. Cook: I very much hope that my hon. Friend's daughter does not fall into the error of thinking that going to work means being taken to lunch. That may result in sad disappointment in later life.

My hon. Friend raises a question relating to the Select Committee. I heard the Chairman on the radio this morning, and he made some interesting points. We shall, of course, reply to the Select Committee in the usual way and I am sure that the Science Minister will be crafting a robust response. I can only say to my hon. Friend that it is important that we get the balance right between the research output of our higher education centres and their commitment to ensuring that they give proper attention and proper energy to the education of the next generation of students.

Bob Spink (Castle Point): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the strategic, environmental and commercial issues surrounding the proposal to site a new airport in the Thames estuary, which is particularly important to my constituents? Although such an airport would impact on a number of communities, it would impact particularly on 40,000 of my constituents who live on Canvey island. They would be delighted if we debated the proposal's impact on the environment and local infrastructure networks, as that would ensure that their interests are covered.

Mr. Cook: I understand that there is not such a proposal, but the issue is under consideration. I cannot

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believe that we would make any strategic decision about aviation or airports in the south-east or elsewhere without full discussion and exploration by the House. Any decision must be a balance between the need of the nation to ensure that we have proper aviation facilities and services, and the important environmental and social considerations to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): The Leader of the House will recall that last week I raised the question of the £32 million contract for smallpox vaccine awarded to PowderJect and the large donation to the Labour party by Paul Drayson, its chief executive officer. We have now heard that PowderJect will subcontract that work to a Danish company, Bavarian Nordic. PowderJect is only acting as the middleman, so the Government could have gone straight to that Danish company and saved the taxpayer a lot of money. Can we have a debate, so that the Government can answer the allegation that they are for sale to the highest bidder? When the right hon. Gentleman replies, will he not go on about the Tories, because people are not interested in what the last Tory Government did in the previous century?

Hon. Members: The hon. Gentleman is right about that.

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friends have stolen my punchline. I fully concur with the hon. Gentleman that the public are not interested in the Conservative party.

I remind the hon. Gentleman of what I said to him last week. PowderJect submitted the best, most cost-effective and most attractive of five tenders. It has long been the practice in the public sector that the company that secures the offer of work can then consider the best way to provide it. It may be that on this occasion, as on others, it has involved other companies and other plants in the production. The Danish company to which he referred did not get the contract because, as far as I am aware, it did not bid for it.

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International Development

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Stringer.]

1.27 pm

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): I welcome a debate that gives us a chance to review progress on international development and the United Kingdom's contribution to it. Since 1997, we have increased the time that the House of Commons spends discussing international development issues, both in Question Time and in the very effective Select Committee on International Development. I am keen to have annual debates, so that each year we can consider how the world is doing, what contribution we are making and where things are improving. We are moving towards that. There is definitely a growing interest in international development among hon. Members from all parties, and that is important and welcome.

No one can but argue that the issue of international development and poverty and inequality in the world is the biggest moral issue facing humanity, given that Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries have enormous wealth and opportunity for education and health care. We can always call for improvement, but compared with the lives of our great grandparents, we live in enormous comfort and people are able to fulfil their ambitions, exercise their freedom and develop their talents.

One in five of all human beings who share this planet with us—1.2 billion people—still live in abject poverty. They have purchasing power equivalent to less than $1 a day, and that is not a measure of what a dollar would buy in a poor country, but in the United States of America. It is a minute amount of money. Half of humanity live on less than $2 day.

We are living in an era of rapidly increasing global integration. People see more of one another than ever before because of the quality of communications that are now available. World population is urbanising rapidly. For the first time in human history more than half of humanity live in urban areas, and the projections are that over the next 15 years it will reach 65 per cent. Teeming slums of masses of poor people see television pictures of how the rest of us live. That is a recipe for conflict and tension. It should shame the rest of the world, given our knowledge, capital and capacity to promote development.

I have no doubt that this is the biggest moral issue that we face, but it is also enormously important for the future safety and sustainability of the planet. Such levels of poverty are often linked to failed and imploding states, the spread of conflict, and the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, which is spreading across the world, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, and much more pernicious and dangerous forms of malaria. Indeed, the area of the world in which malaria is endemic is increasing. There are also the pressures associated with refugee movements and people leaving their homelands. There are more refugees in the world than at any point in history, and most of them are hosted by poor countries. Moreover, great strains are being placed on the environment, such as growing desertification and over-fishing.

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As I have said, this is the biggest moral issue that we face, but if we do not make quicker progress, the prospect of bitter divisions, more conflict, more instability, more environmental degradation and the spread of disease will threaten future generations, wherever they live. In Afghanistan, we witnessed the consequences of a failed state and the ability of pernicious movements to hide themselves there, endangering and threatening the future of the world, as well as the people of Afghanistan.

If we are not careful in doing better by Africa, we will have virtually a failed continent on our hands. That would cause enormous suffering to the people of Africa, but it would also endanger the future safety and security of Europe. Africa is our near abroad; the distance from the south of Spain to the north of Africa is less than 20 miles. If Africa remains in its current condition, the human suffering will be appalling, and the future of our two continents will also be put in great danger.

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