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6.12 pm

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West): Much of what had to be said today has already been said, but it has struck a chord on all sides of the House. I congratulate all the previous speakers on having made informative and interesting contributions.

I have been impressed by the genuine concern of many hon. Members here today, and as a new member of the International Development Committee, I have already heard evidence given by the UNHCR, Action Aid and the Secretary of State, among others. Much credit must go to the Secretary of State, whose forthright approach on these issues leaves nobody in any doubt that she feels passionately about her work and the work of her Department. The annual report was published too close to this debate to allow me thoroughly to read it all, but contributions from other speakers showed that they found time for a more detailed analysis. In fact, I saw my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) reading it during last night's parliamentary party meeting.

One issue on which I should like to focus is the untying of aid, which is a welcome move. I entirely agree that DFID should continue to promote that among other Governments. The UK Government's decision is good because it is taking the lead and pushing other countries in the same direction. Tying up aid can skew development projects away from poverty-focused projects and lead to the provision of the wrong type of service and advice.

I heard what my hon. Friend said about debt relief. It was interesting to read a recent note from Jubilee Plus which mentions that the US has built up a massive external debt of $2.2 trillion, and while it pays $20 billion per annum to service that debt, poor countries are crippled by over $300 billion of debt service repayments on a debt that is almost the same as the US Government's national debt.

One of the reasons why I first got involved in politics was that I realised that the problems facing us in this country, important though they are, are often nothing compared with the plight of millions around the world, many of whom are starving. Some years ago, I was involved in supervising the delivery of aid to eastern Europe on behalf of a Scottish charity that had raised money, medical supplies and presents for children who were suffering from the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor explosion. That was my first experience of seeing that inefficiency and corruption can go hand in hand, and I hope that the Secretary of State and her Department will continue to pursue and root out corruption whenever there is evidence of it among recipients, to make sure that those most in need receive what is due to them. The millennium development goals are important, and, again, all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate have subscribed to the contents of the DFID report.

There is always a fine balancing act—on the one hand, respecting a decision of a democratically elected Government to set their own priorities, while, on the other, ensuring that aid goes to the most needy. The Tanzania air traffic control system is a perfect example of that, and we hope that this Department will pursue a wise course of action in that regard.

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One of the previous speakers mentioned Sudanese residents bringing the issue of Sudan to his attention. I think that I mentioned in a debate on Sudan in Westminster Hall that no constituent of mine has ever raised that issue with me; indeed, it is relatively rare that people raise third-world debt with me. It is not because they do not care. I believe that it is determined by where the news teams are. We saw pictures of the famine in Ethiopia, and that had an impact around the world. Members of the House must take responsibility to press the media to take an interest, and the Department must ensure that there are no forgotten areas of this world.

Some of the most difficult areas to deal with are those where conflict exists, whether it is in Sudan, Palestine or Afghanistan. In Palestine, we have witnessed the destruction of projects funded by EU aid. In Afghanistan, rebuilding of the country must be a priority. As the Secretary of State said, without an infrastructure, there will be no way for aid to get through, and people will continue to starve. This morning, we heard again that 3 million to 4 million people are at risk from famine in Malawi—a country where development aid was cut recently because of corruption—and emergency aid will now be required. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park has raised this issue with the Secretary of State. Once again, I am encouraged to be brief, as many items have already been dealt with.

Finally, I want to refer to the Budget Red Book. I noticed that about two pages were dedicated to international poverty reduction; interestingly, that constitutes approximately 0.7 per cent. of the document. Unfortunately, we are not making great progress towards the 0.7 per cent. target. At the current rate of progress, my researcher, who is 22, will be delighted to know that he will be able to celebrate the 0.7 per cent. target being reached just in time for his 100th birthday. Surely we must do better.

6.18 pm

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk): I want to join in the tributes to the leadership shown by the Secretary of State in raising the profile of international development, and, critically, in increasing public acceptance of the case for augmenting spending in this area. In the past, there has been much misuse of development assistance and misdirection of money—it has been used for the wrong purposes and has got into the wrong hands. As a result, public acceptance has fallen significantly over the years. The Secretary of State's role in re-establishing and rebuilding the importance of this area of spending in the public's eyes has been enormously valuable.

This afternoon's debate has not focused much on the passing into law of the International Development Act 2002. In some ways, that is surprising, because the establishment of the central principle of poverty alleviation and sustainable development is of great importance. Apart from anything else, it directs attention to other areas of Government in which that same focus may not yet exist. The Government's international policy on the developing world still lacks coherence. We have established that development assistance must be devoted to the alleviation of poverty and to sustainable development, but that principle needs to apply across Government and Government policy.

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Let me highlight one or two examples of how the principle has clearly not been in place in the past year and on which further work needs to be done. Many hon. Members made the case about European spending on development assistance. I will not cite all the statistics that show how out of focus European spending is; suffice it to say that it is not being spent sufficiently on the countries in most need, and that problem is getting worse. There is a reform process, but inadequate and insufficient progress is being made to ensure that the money is spent in the most deserving countries. Unless the pace of reform improves substantially, we will have to ask ourselves whether it is better for us to keep that money and spend it in accordance with the Act, so applying the core principle of the alleviation of poverty. At the moment, the way in which European money is spent on development assistance goes against the Act's core principle.

Several hon. Members mentioned the Commonwealth Development Corporation. In the recent Adjournment debate on that subject, the Minister rejected the contention that there was cause for concern about the move towards partial privatisation. Let me repeat the strong assertion that there is self-evidently a possible conflict between seeking the highest rate of return on an investment and having poverty reduction as the core principle. Other hon. Members said that CDC money, used as a pump primer in areas where commercial money will not go, plays a crucial role in developing countries. It is enormously regrettable if we are to lose that, as appears to be the case.

Like the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), I have just returned from the trip to India organised and paid for by Oxfam. I was told that the CDC man in India is busily organising investment in information technology. IT is concentrated in one or two specific high-growth areas in India. It has little impact on the rest of the country. The point was made most forcibly to me that that is not helping to alleviate poverty and that the money needs to go to parts of the country where it is much more needed.

On arms sales, I agree with the Secretary of State that developing countries need internal security. Of course they need armed forces so that they can defend themselves. Is it right, however, that arms exports to Africa from this country were worth £52 million in 1999, £125 million in 2000 and are anticipated to be worth £200 million next year, according to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade? They are paid for, inevitably, by increasing debt in countries where we often have to write off that very debt. In addition, there were reports this week of sales of military aircraft to India that are capable of conversion to carry nuclear bombs. Given the fragility of relations between India and Pakistan, is that wise? Is it compatible with the thrust of the Department's work?

On Tanzania, the point has been made many times that selling an air traffic control system for military use to one of the poorest countries in the world goes against the principles of the Act. It is extraordinary that that export licence was granted. There should be a full inquiry into how that happened.

There is also the United Kingdom's involvement in the manufacture of and trade in cluster bombs, and their use. We must question whether such involvement is contrary to the core principles that are set out in the International Development Act 2002. There are 14,000 unexploded bomblets scattered round Afghanistan, and the impact on civilians following conflict is massive. The situation

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prevents them from returning to agriculture. It prevents children from playing as they would normally do in peaceful times. If we are to have the same coherent focus on developing countries, there must be international agreement on the use of cluster bombs and on the obligations of countries that use them following conflict to clear up the mess that they create.

In terms of creating coherence and consistency in policy, there is the issue of trade, which is highlighted in chapter 2 of the report and mentioned by many Members this afternoon. I support the work of the Department in working with the Department of Trade and Industry to increase opportunities for developing countries to trade. It is clear that the Doha agreement is a step in the right direction.

I was struck by the fact that India makes up 20 per cent. of the world's population and yet has a share of only 1 per cent. of the world's trade. There must be more equitable trading rules. The EU is one of the worst offenders, as the Oxfam report has demonstrated.

I was struck in India also by the massive challenge for the country itself in breaking down internal barriers to create a single market. There are incredible queues of lorries between states within the country, each charging its own tariffs on entry. India needs to create a common tax system throughout the country. There is a massive need for labour law reform. It is essential also to tackle the endemic corruption that riddles the country.

Without those internal changes, there will not be the necessary internal investment. That will prevent India from participating in international trade. There is an obligation on both the developed world and the developing world to take a great deal of action to ensure that international trade increases.

I turn to the effectiveness of spending within the budget of the Department for International Development. I welcome the Department's acceptance of a clear strong link between good governance, proper management of public finances and the achievement of development targets. Chapter 3 of the report refers to the recognition of the huge scope for improvement in public financial management in the 25 heavily indebted poor countries. That improvement still needs to be made. I welcome the Department's recognition of the increasing link between the giving of assistance and achieving improvements in governance and financial management. The New Partnership for Africa's Development initiative, where Africa is taking responsibility itself for improving governance and obtaining assistance in return for those improvements, is a case in point.

In India, I saw the Department working in four states, choosing the states where there is most evidence of a move towards good governance, and where reformers are in charge and making a real difference. It was good to see the Department working with reformers to ensure that our money went to good effect.

Close scrutiny of how the Department's money is being spent is vital. Since my return from India, I have received an e-mail from India referring to the fact that the Department's HIV/AIDS work in conjunction with state governance in two states, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, is effectively subcontracted to a private company, Dalal Engineers Ltd., a name that hardly suggests that the company has massive experience in HIV/AIDS work.

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That may be working well, but I should appreciate it if the Minister could investigate the matter and let me know whether the money is being effectively used.

I warmly welcome the increasing budget for aid, although I am disappointed that the Government have not been more ambitious. The extra money creates new challenges to ensure that it is spent effectively by the Department. It has been suggested to me that there is a shortage of ideas for good quality projects, and there is a danger of a poor return on money if it is simply pumped into the system. More money means more pressure on staff to ensure effective use, so transparent evaluation of the work of the Department is essential.

DFID has an internal evaluation unit, and the Department's website includes a section on evaluation, yet reports on evaluation go up only to 1997. There is nothing thereafter. Are those evaluation reports continuing? It is essential that they are available on the internet for the public to see.

I conclude by acknowledging that the Department has made massive progress in the past year. However, we must all realise that there is an enormous burden on both the developing world and the developed world to continue the process of reform and to ensure that all the money is spent on the alleviation of poverty.

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