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Clare Short: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Many failed states in Africa, such as Nigeria, have wrecked Government systems. If we do not help to rebuild the systems in those countries, we will never get their economies to function properly, and we will not be able to provide health care for everyone. We need to help

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countries with crumbled public institutions to build decent, modern state systems, so that they can have decent economies and take advantage of trading opportunities.

Mr. Syms: The Secretary of State makes a good point. We certainly have to do our best to raise standards in those countries.

The commitment to providing primary school education for all is important, and we must also ensure that girls as well as boys benefit. That would at least allow the intellectual capital of the countries involved to develop.

A lot of good things are happening, and there are many initiatives, but we must ensure that they are followed through, and that we measure the progress being made. As has been noted in the debate, Britain is pretty good at measuring or tracking what is going on, whereas the EU is not quite so good.

I still find it difficult to criticise the EU for giving money to Poland or Hungary. At the beginning of the debate the Secretary of State referred to the straits of Gibraltar. As Spain and North Africa are very close, with only 20 miles between them, we have to take an interest. The Oder river is on the other side of Europe and, given the transition and the shock of the change from a communist to a free-market system in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, it is inevitable that the EU will take an interest. It is in our interest to do so. If the transformation in eastern Europe goes well, Europe will become more prosperous, with bigger markets and more citizens. Providing that we get the politics right, Africa will have the opportunity to buy into that.

Given the relative position of South Korea and Ghana 40 years ago, it is interesting to note what South Korea has achieved since then. The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie referred to Vietnam, and I wonder whether the Asians might be the best people to impart what they know to Africa rather than us in the west. There seems to be a certain ethos, a way of doing things, in Asia that can take countries from poverty and drive them, in the Confucian tradition, towards a degree of success, as China has succeeded in doing.

Tony Baldry: Does my hon. Friend agree that we do not know very much about why some states succeed and others fail? Perhaps we should do more work on finding out why some succeed so well.

Mr. Syms: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Comparative case studies would be useful. Some states in Asia have managed to succeed and go from poverty to relative wealth within a generation, without necessarily having civil wars. They have not all been democracies—indeed, Asia contains countries with many types of government.

The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) made a good point about failed states, particularly those with debt problems. Argentina's debt is causing real stress there. The Economist has made the point that there is no bankruptcy or receivership pathway for countries as there is for individual businesses. The international community must think more about how countries can overcome their problems. When debts overwhelm countries, even quite prosperous or potentially prosperous ones such as Argentina, it can be a dislocating process.

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I should like to pay tribute to the work of the British Council. Information is very important. When I was in Nigeria and went to the British Council in Kano, we saw people there devouring British newspapers, even though they were sometimes months old. I am not sure what Nigerians would make of Sven-Goran Eriksson or the goings-on in this country. Nevertheless, there is an appetite for the information that newspapers and books can provide that cannot necessarily be had elsewhere in Nigeria.

The internet also has a role in disseminating information to Africa. To give an example, a firm in my constituency called Cotton Net Ltd., whose managing director is Bruce Evans, wanted to have an internet trading site. In 1999, The Daily Telegraph advertised what it described as an e-dream competition. The company entered, along with 1,000 other entries, and went through various processes. C14 Net, a company in the United States quoted on NASDAQ, was involved in the competition. Cotton Net won the competition and received a letter of intent saying that £1 million would be invested in the company, but then the dotcom crash happened and no money arrived.

Cotton Net had the very good idea of trading the cotton produced by many small farmers in eastern Europe. It has taken some trade, which it can do at a lower commission than many wholesalers. However, the company is struggling, so if anyone has any bright ideas to enable Cotton Net in Poole to trade in cotton, Bruce Evans would appreciate it. Getting the products to the markets is a real problem in many parts of Africa.

We are making progress, although it is sometimes painfully slow. We must get the negotiations on trade right so that we all become richer. We must ensure that aid is properly scrutinised and produces the right outcome. We all know that we must do much more about debt.

We live in a big wide world, and we need the consent of everyone in the world for things to go well. We have heard much about rogue states and terrorism, and we know that aircraft can travel to this country in only a few hours. It is important that our fellow human beings have a decent standard of living and proper government. We are making progress and I hope that it will continue. I hope that more people will invest in Africa—but there are problems when we hear about nothing but famines, wars, coups and looting. However, we must travel hopefully and I am sure that one day, when we debate this subject we shall find that we have made much more progress.

6 pm

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): I shall be brief—partly because I have almost lost my voice, so I may have to abandon my speech after a while. This has been a superb debate on our most vital policy area and our most successful Department. I am delighted to have the opportunity to take part in it.

There has been some discussion of the relationship between international issues and Members' constituency interests, and of how we can balance the two in our casework. My response is that they are wholly interlinked. For example, I visited Sudan a few weeks ago, not only because I was interested in the country but because

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Sudanese people live in my constituency. They visit me and ask, "What are you doing about the situation in Sudan?" Visiting Sudan and taking an interest in international development are part of my constituency casework—we should all acknowledge that connection.

I nipped out for a cup of tea earlier and unfortunately ended up reading a page of the Evening Standard about a couple of racists who are standing in the elections next week. After that, it was good to come back to the Chamber and hear Members on both sides of the House reaffirming their common humanity and their common interest in such a profoundly important subject.

The aid budget needs to be increased dramatically. There has been enormous progress from the 0.26 per cent. inherited by the Government in 1997 to the present 0.39 per cent. We need to go further, however. That would be a most powerful affirmation both of the central importance to the Government of the aid policy and of the success of the Department for International Development.

Massive challenges face us across the world. Many of them are set out in the honest and straightforward report issued by the Department. However, people should not despair about the problems. Indeed, no one in the House or in this country has the right to feel despair, given the circumstances that face people in other parts of the world. We can draw great comfort from the HIPC initiative, from our constituents' support for debt relief, and from the way in which countries such as Uganda and Mozambique have magnificently used the opportunities afforded them to invest in health and primary education to develop their societies.

We can draw great inspiration from a Prime Minister who is committed to African development and to dealing with the problems of Africa. We can also take great hope from NEPAD—itself an African initiative. We can draw great optimism from the Secretary of State's comments and the statements in the departmental report about the possibilities for peace over a great swathe of the continent—from the Atlantic to the Red sea, from Angola to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and from the Great Lakes to Sudan.

We have not spent enough time talking about the role of non-governmental organisations, which play a magnificent role in promoting policy and can be an important thorn in the side of Governments when they carry out policies on the ground. Many of us have seen them operating in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances in the most impoverished places, working to feed children and to develop health and food projects. We owe them a great deal.

My first trip to Africa was to Burundi with UNICEF in 1998. Our host was a man called Luis Zuniga, who was head of UNICEF there. A couple of years later he was murdered doing his job—visiting an internally displaced persons camp to assess the state of the children there and try to protect them.

I have also visited Angola, a country that has enormous potential and tremendous opportunities now that its war is over, although corruption remains a huge problem. Angola is potentially very wealthy, with huge oil and diamond reserves, but in its IDP camps we saw squalor worse than I want to see again. Fifty-six people were living in a tent of the size that hon. Members might take on holiday for a fortnight in France. There was little running water and no electricity, and some children were

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starving or had had limbs blown off by land mines. Then, the Angolan Government used the war as an excuse; now they no longer have that excuse. They have an enormous responsibility, with the support of the international community, to get to grips with the country's massive problems and huge opportunities.

In Angola we met extraordinary young people from the Angolan youth parliament, who expressed their distress at being able to see the opportunities that were available to young people in the rest of the world, and their disgust at living in a situation that UNICEF has described as possibly the worst anywhere in the world for children growing up. The example of those young people offers real hope for the people of Angola.

A few weeks ago we visited Sudan, which is the largest country in Africa and has enormous mineral wealth. The despair of Sudan has already been well described, but everyone we met showed an urge towards and a desire for peace. We met intelligent rational people for whom peace is the intelligent rational choice.

It was clear that if the Sudanese people had peace, the country could develop tremendously on the basis of its mineral wealth. It could become an important player in NEPAD, and an important bridge between Africa and the middle east, the Muslim world and the Christian world, and the Arab world and the African world. Its potential is enormous, but hard choices will have to be made to secure peace. The new unit set up jointly by the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office under Alan Goulty has an opportunity to play an important role in peace negotiations in a country where we saw that the influence and interest of the United Kingdom was broadly welcomed.

Both sides will have to face up to the fact that at some point, which they must define, there will have to be an act of self-determination. At the very least, there will have to be a referendum, in which everyone participates, on the future of the country. There will be plenty of time to work out whether the country's future lies in separation or devolution. Sudan must also work out how to tackle all the issues of development, including economic development, and how to fulfil the needs of a proper civil society, such as basic structures for health, security and education. Both sides need to face up to the need for a referendum, and our Government, along with the surrounding countries, will have to help them to do so.

I am delighted by the Secretary of State's remarks about the importance of primary education in humanitarian development, and of assisting children who have been displaced.

Before I conclude, I want to make one constituency point. We have a small town, a very white town, in the middle of a rural area, which under the influence of the local Oxfam group declared itself the world's first "fair trade" town. Garstang is now twinned with New Koforidua in Ghana and it has built up good links with that country. One of the most inspirational experiences that I have had as an MP was organising a local produce breakfast with the previous Under-Secretary of State for International Development, who is now the Minister of State, Scotland Office. It was attended by local schoolchildren, farmers, business people and dignitaries, who all enjoyed eating bacon and eggs and talking about

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the relative position of farmers in Garstang and Ghana. If we can keep that sort of dialogue going, there is real hope for the future.

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