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5.8 pm

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and Opposition Front Benchers for not being here for the beginning of the debate. I was with my constituents, on the other side of the River Thames, listening to the concerns that they expressed with great lucidity and cogency. It is a most wonderful rally or demonstration, whatever we want to call it. However, as I said to my constituents, I wondered why they were here, preaching to the converted, and not campaigning outside certain foreign embassies in the capital.

It seems to have been a comparatively short time—certainly a decade—since the feeling in the country at large and in the Chamber has moved from the idea that we can transform poverty, eradicate disease, introduce education and actively assist countries to develop exclusively by increasing the amount of aid that we pour

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into the begging bowl. The posters this afternoon were entirely different from those that would have been seen 10 years ago.

Clare Short: Two years ago.

Glenda Jackson: Indeed. Then, they would have been about aid, while today's are about fair trade—fair being the operative word.

Without exception, my constituents paid tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Chancellor for putting the eradication of poverty at the top of the world's agenda.

There are still areas about which my constituents are very concerned. I was interested in my right hon. Friend's view of globalisation, with which I concur. One cannot be for or against it, but one must acknowledge that it is here and that it is not going to go away. The question is how it is best managed in the interests of the vast number of people in the world who seem to have absolutely nothing.

Within the public perception of what the Government are doing on their own and in concert with European Governments and the wider world community, there is a view that we are not acting speedily enough or delivering enough results because we still talk about fair trade. Some believe that the best way to eradicate poverty is to keep people in a sort of village environment, where nothing to do with machinery or the crudities of the developed world will ever impinge on the tranquil and pastoral nature of their lives. I have visited some of the countries where there is a pastoral nature to people's lives. I have stood beside representatives of non-governmental organisations who, on hearing a group of people singing a traditional song, have lamented to me that it seems a shame that teaching their children to read will interfere with their culture. I am sorry, but I think that that view is crazy. To deny anyone the right to read is the antithesis of what today's demonstration outside was about and of what we have been cogently arguing for in this Chamber for a considerable time.

We talk easily about the problems of the developing world, but it seems to me that the problems are essentially of the developed world. As the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, said, we have to begin to examine what we are prepared to give up. I will give a precise example of what I mean. One of my young constituents raised with me the privatisation of water in India and Ghana. I find it deeply offensive that someone should argue that the largest democratic society in the world—India—or any other independent nation state should be told by the developed world whether it may begin to privatise its utilities. Those concerns were not expressed to me when New Zealand privatised its water supply, or when Australia or any other country in the developed world did so.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) that we have to take this opportunity to make this a grass-roots, committed change on the ground.

Clare Short: On non-governmental organisations, Blake's poems opposing the industrial revolution in the

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United Kingdom are an equivalent. We still sing "Jerusalem", but it was written to oppose industrialisation and the wealth to which that led.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): It is a great hymn.

Clare Short: It is an interesting parallel.

Ghana has not privatised; it has asked a private company to manage under a regulated arrangement a more efficient system of delivery in urban areas. Christian Aid is campaigning against that democratic decision of the previous Government, supported by the Opposition, to deliver water to people who did not have it—it had to be brought to them by the bucket at great expense. That is a mistaken approach and we must resist it.

Glenda Jackson: That is my final point. It is beholden on us all to make it abundantly clear to people out there, who work extremely hard for what they believe in—let us not diminish what they do—that many of their ideas will not produce the results that they desire. It is certainly not for us or any other democratic nation to attempt to impede the decisions that, in the two examples that I gave, will, we hope, deliver clean, affordable water to people who have none at the moment.

5.13 pm

Mr. Michael Portillo (Kensington and Chelsea): I find myself speaking in a House full of hon. Members who are experts in the subject, and I am anything but. My purpose today is mainly to congratulate those on the Conservative Front Bench for raising this subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) made an elegant and splendid speech and I wish that we had many more people like her who were able to make such speeches.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on showing clearly that there is no reason why any party in the House should have a monopoly on compassion. She demonstrated that the Conservative party feels strongly the pressures and difficulties faced by developing countries. My hon. Friend also expressed very ably the reason why trade and globalisation are part of the answer to the question, and there appears to be consensus on that point.

I also wish to congratulate the Secretary of State, because she has attacked as nonsense the position of those who argue against globalisation—an important stand. She took that stand at a time when to do so was not straightforward, and it was very influential, because of where she comes from on the political spectrum.

Many hon. Members on both sides of the House argue that the liberalisation of trade will be effective in eliminating poverty and raising living standards all around the world. We have evidence of vast transfers of wealth from the rich world to the poorer world in the form of investment, equity and commercial loans. We also have evidence that such direct investment often helps to underpin struggling democracies or to topple dictators, and brings increased living standards in such simple things—to our eyes—as access to telephones for hundreds of millions of people. With all those proven benefits and what we have seen of the ways in which living standards have been transformed—especially in China and other countries of the Asia-Pacific region—it is extraordinary that we still have a vocal lobby against globalisation.

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In this debate, I have been concerned that the amount of consensus in the House leads us to underestimate the extent to which an irrational argument is going on outside. The anti-globalisation point of view appeals to a surprisingly large number of people. In the examples of Seattle and Genoa, I was struck not so much by the demonstrations and violence on the streets but by the fact that an incoherent argument could strike a chord with such a broad spectrum of public opinion. That is true of public opinion in Britain and in much of Europe, and to a lesser extent in the United States.

Today, we have a broad-based commentariat who are influential in creating public opinion. In this country, we have a large middle class, of which only a small minority is involved in the process of wealth creation. As a result, the anti-globalisation movement, and the echo that it has in public opinion, is a demonstration of a widespread lack of understanding—even a distrust—of enterprise, commerce and business.

My second purpose in speaking in the debate is to propose to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that they should go further than the step that they have taken today. There is an important battle to be fought to win the case for free trade, enterprise and wealth creation, because the amount of hostility to wealth creation generated by the anti-globalisation movement is merely symptomatic of a broader misunderstanding of wealth creation and a mistrust of the way in which companies perform.

I do not claim that there are no examples of companies behaving badly, even disgracefully. Indeed, because what happens here and what happens in developing countries are linked in people's minds, business often does itself no favours. The frequent flurries that we have over executive pay are just one example that makes it difficult to explain to people on low incomes in our own country, let alone those in other countries, why the enterprise system is valid. Today, there has been another rumpus over executive pay at Vodafone. On each occasion, the problem is not that executive pay cannot be justified; it is that people are unwilling to be transparent about their policies on executive pay.

The same is true of the development question. One of the reasons why anti-globalisation has struck a chord with a broad group of people is the sense of a growing lack of accountability in all sorts of areas. There is a feeling that more and more of our lives, and of the lives of people around the world, are being determined by people who, in the end, are not answerable to voters and are not accountable.

Some of the fire has been directed at international institutions. For example, the International Monetary Fund is now in an extraordinarily strong position to impose policies that have very severe political consequences, such as changing Governments. Sometimes, those policies change Governments that are very bad—in my view—into better Governments. That is not a justification in itself, however, as an organisation that has that kind of power, and that makes decisions that have such consequences, needs to be transparent and accountable. I would like my hon. Friends to argue for that.

Let us take the example of an organisation such as the World Bank. The criticism that has largely been made of the World Bank is not so much that it has gone around the world being high-handed but that it has been attracted to faddism—it has followed different initiatives of different non-governmental organisations.

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While we are talking about accountability, let us include the NGOs in that discussion. I am pleased that those questions have been raised in several Labour Members' speeches. People who work for NGOs, for Oxfam or for Christian Aid now wield great influence, but they have a duty to account for their positions and their legitimacy in arguing cases that may simply be matters of personal political opinion or prejudice that have no democratic legitimacy. Indeed, the benefits that they bring to the people in developing countries whom they claim to represent may be questionable or not to their benefit at all.

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