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6 pm

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): I should like to concur with everything that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) has just said in an excellent speech. As you have been in the Chamber, Madam Deputy Speaker, I do not think that you will have had the opportunity to go outside and see the huge number of people taking part in today's demonstration and lobby of Parliament. What is most impressive about the demonstration is that it shows how many people care deeply about world poverty. That is extremely important and very encouraging for us all. The Secretary of State said earlier in a sedentary intervention that the Conservative party had changed. She is quite wrong, as huge numbers of the people outside are Conservatives. Indeed, huge numbers of supporters of the NGOs have always been Conservatives, as I suggest she

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knows full well. I do not know whether the majority are Conservatives, but there is certainly a great number of them. None the less, this is not partisan issue and there is general agreement throughout the House in all the speeches that have been made.

Clare Short: I was not trying to speak in a sectarian spirit in raising the issue, but the record of the Conservative party in power is different from the welcome position that it has now adopted and to which the hon. Gentleman makes a big contribution. That is a very welcome change, but it is change none the less.

Mr. Robathan: I shall not get into that argument in a 10-minute speech. I disagree with the Secretary of State on this issue, as on few others relating to development, although I disagree with her profoundly about many other matters. It is a pity that the Government have tabled an amendment to the motion, as it contains nothing that is offensive to them. I will be sorry if it forces us to a Division, because everybody who has spoken has generally agreed.

The problem about speaking late in a debate, as I always tend to do, is that all the points that one had wanted to make have often been made already. I will not repeat them, but excellent points were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) about Italian tomatoes in Ghana, by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) about NGOs and how they sometimes wish to stifle changes in culture, and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo), who referred to the accountability of NGOs, which we should revisit as a House. My fellow member of the International Development Committee, the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington), spoke about the oil corruption that he saw in Nigeria, but which I did not see.

I do not want to reiterate all the points that have been made, as it would bore the House, apart from anything else. I should like to stick with three issues. The first is the common agricultural policy, which was eloquently described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry). The policy is changing, and that is all to the good. I should state that I have an interest, as I am a farmer. I probably should not be arguing for greater reform, therefore, but I do so, because I think that the way in which farming and export subsidies are given is absolutely outrageous. It is sometimes very difficult to look the developing world in the eye with regard to this issue, on which I think that the Government and the Opposition are at one. This dumping—some of what is happening is dumping—costs us almost half the European Union budget, at a cost of 41 billion euro, and works against the environment, the consumer, farmers, who are driven out of business, and the developing world.

The second point, which was again raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon, is about US farm subsidies, which are moving in entirely the wrong way, representing some $180 billion or $190 billion dollars over 10 years. In so far as one should support any foreign Government, I support the Government of George Bush, but I regret the decision. My right hon. Friend pointed out that it was a Democrat-led decision as much as anything else, but I think that we would all agree that it was a retrograde step.

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Indeed, we can see the developed world getting richer. In my lifetime, it has become profoundly richer. We have bigger cars, we eat more and we have problems with obesity—problems that did not exist when I was born in 1951. We are all getting richer, and while that is happening, parts of the developing world, especially in Africa, are getting dramatically poorer. That is very disturbing and distressing. My third point is this: what are developing countries doing for themselves?

I recently visited Sudan, and I visited the Congo last year. The sort of conflict that has taken place there destroys trade and deters inward investment. Besides killing people or making them starve, it exacerbates and causes poverty. From speaking about the Congo, one can move on to Zimbabwe, which has traditionally exported agricultural products, but is now starving. While it is starving, the kleptocracy of the military in Zimbabwe is looting the diamonds of the Congo. We are not responsible for that—those people are.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury mentioned tomatoes in Ghana—a country that is doing well and improving. I visited a tomato field there where four big pumps had previously been used to irrigate an area of about 45 hectares. At the time of my visit, however, only about eight hectares were being irrigated with one smaller pump. The reason was straightforward: nobody had bothered to invest in the pumps. There had been appalling management and a lack of investment—for all I know, there may also have been corruption—but it is no good blaming the developed world for that.

I am afraid that such problems are due to lack of capacity. The Secretary of State talked about increasing capacity in developing countries and that is what we need to look at. I think that the plant was run by a co-operative, but it could just as easily have been a foreign-run company. We moved on from the unirrigated fields to the tomato processing plant, which had closed down two years before and was a derelict site. Again, that was not the fault of the developed world, but was purely a fact—so it appeared to us and so we were told—of inefficiency, maladministration and poor management.

Oxfam raised the issue of rice in Ghana with me just before the visit, so while in Ghana I asked what had happened to the rice industry. The Ghanaians replied that the rice produced there was not very edible and that they preferred the imported rice. I do not know about that, but it appears to be the case. Again, we must not always blame the developed world.

My real point about this issue—the Secretary of State will not be surprised to hear me say this, as we have been smiling at each other about it—concerns corruption. We have heard about Uganda and how poverty there fell by 40 per cent. in the 1990s. Why not Nigeria, the second country that the Committee visited this year, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie? I understand that in 1980, its GDP per capita was approximately US$1,200, but by 2000, it was down to not much more than $300. Yet that country has oil revenue of US$18 billion a year. Where is that money going? Why are two thirds of the population living on less than a dollar a day? I am afraid that it is very obvious where that money is going; it is being picked from the pockets of the poor by the kleptocracy that runs that country. As the hon. Member for Clydebank and

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Milngavie—I hope that he is also a friend—said, it may call itself a democracy, but we need to see a lot more action there.

Other hon. Members want to speak, so I shall end my speech with these final comments. Yes, we must make trade fair. That is absolutely essential. It must be equitable, but equity and fairness must extend and reach down to the very poorest in the developing world, because it is the poor who suffer most from poor governance. Let us ensure, of course, that our trade is fair, but let us also help the countries of Africa to develop good, open, fair and honest government. That is not easy, but it is absolutely essential.

6.8 pm

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), I want to concentrate on food and agriculture issues, but I am in an unfortunate position, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) has already dismissed part of my argument as an absurd fallacy. I hope that I can persuade him to retract at least slightly.

As somebody who has spent most of his working life in or close to the world of agriculture and food production, whenever I visit any foreign country, but especially those in the developing world, I immediately consider that aspect of their world and their rural community. Like other hon. Members who have spoken from all parts of the House, I am often horrified to discover the amount of food that is being imported by a poor country that patently has the natural resources to produce that food itself. There are very few countries that could not meet most, if not all, of their basic requirements if the political and economic situation allowed them to do so. I do not think that many countries have such a natural disadvantage that they could not make a significant contribution.

Clare Short: The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) mentioned the distortions of international trade and low prices. Commodity prices are still falling and falling, and that feeds into inefficiency. Allowing Africa to process its agricultural production, bring it into our markets and use its cheaper labour would create more efficiency. We are partly responsible for the gross inefficiencies because prices are so terrible.

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