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6.35 pm

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): I shall keep my remarks short, as I know that those on the Front Benches would like to get a word in edgeways.

We are all lobbied by a great many people on a great many subjects, and it is a pleasure to be lobbied on an issue from which the lobbyists do not stand to make any personal gains. Some hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who made a thoughtful speech, acknowledged that we lack new volunteers for political parties, which perhaps reflects the ebbing away of the idealism that we all seek to encourage and engender. The Trade Justice Movement is therefore a welcome phenomenon with which I believe we should engage. We should do so honestly and listen to what those in the movement are saying, rather than simply say in a general and patronising way, "Yes, it all sounds very nice." We should also tell them frankly when there are issues on which we do not agree.

The Select Committee on the Treasury recently had the privilege of meeting the director of the World Bank, Jim Wolfensohn. With regard to the bank's latest report, whatever its reputation in the past, I believe that it is now seriously addressing issues of world poverty. We have heard many statistics today, and I shall add one more: 1.1 billion people make do on less than 70p a day. We need to consider poverty in the developing world. In the World Bank's reports, we see that the skewed inequalities in many developing countries are much more severe even than in our country, where they are bad enough. In working with developing countries, we need to ensure that our policies help them to develop and help their poorest people.

An especially valuable initiative in that context is the international finance facility, which my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) mentioned. The

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attractiveness of the project is that it effectively doubles the available cash for aid in the short term to enable us to try to reach the world development goals that were agreed by the countries of the world a few years ago, but which, in many cases, are a very long way from being achieved. I commend the Government for pushing that issue forward. In talks with the Treasury in the United States, there was an impression that, although it might not be prepared to take the proposal on board in precisely the same form, it has not rejected it as explicitly as is believed in some quarters.

The Trade Justice Movement is making a number of calls, although I shall not go into detail because of the time limit. Many of them have been mentioned. In particular, the movement is saying that there should be no forced liberalisation. Balance is important. There is an increasing recognition that siege economies and reckless liberalisation at all costs and as fast as possible are not the answer. This Government accept in their dealings with developing countries that they have the right to make informed decisions in consultation with us about the speed that is appropriate for them. I do not think that it is necessarily a bad thing for us to make a bid to offer services in a developing country, as long as it is not accompanied by inappropriate pressure.

I welcome the Trade Justice Movement and its efforts this week, and I welcome the Government's efforts. When we discuss the urgent issues of the day in Britain, such as whether we need a new national football stadium and whether we are in favour of nudity in gardens or approve of the standard of television programmes, we should recognise that they are piffling in comparison with those faced by people who live their entire lives in the shadow of hunger and disease. That is what we have debated today. I am glad that the Opposition chose to make it the topic of the day and that our Government are making such a commitment to addressing the issues.

6.40 pm

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): Thank God that from time to time we can have a bit of passion—laced with good humour—in our debates. Today was one such occasion. I was first elected 20 years ago this month. When I mentioned international development during the election campaign of 1983, I can record that my constituents reacted with polite bemusement that I should mention such a thing, and no doubt they thought I was slightly dotty. They were probably right. It is interesting to note that during those 20 years the whole atmosphere has completely changed, as the Minister of State said. All sides of the debate have moved on, which is a very good thing.

I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), to his new position. We can be sure that he will talk good sense. After all, he has a Master of Arts degree in imperial and commonwealth studies under his belt, and I note that his special interests include India and Sri Lanka, as well as Harrow, West. That is not a bad agenda for an International Development Minister.

When I meet trade justice campaigners in my constituency of Salisbury on Saturday, I will be able to report that we have had a robust, well-intentioned and

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good-spirited debate. The Minister talked about basic infrastructure. We should never forget that we are talking about basic economics—resource allocation of the most basic kind, whether it be water and drainage or transport and the ability to get goods to market—as well as the intellectual property challenges that face us and all the negotiating that we have to do in the world.

I was a little sad that the good humour was broken by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), who, when he was generous enough to look in on our debate—I note that he is not here now—accused the Conservatives of scuppering attempts to reform the common agricultural policy. He was quite wrong about that. Conservative MEPs voted against the European Parliament report—the Cunha report—that opposed Fischler's proposals to reform the CAP. The Minister, who was then at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, thanked those Conservative MEPs for their support in trying to push forward the proposals for CAP reform. Indeed, when the Cunha report was voted on in the last plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Labour and Conservative MEPs voted against it and tabled joint amendments. Let me get the record straight: we are on the same side on this issue. It is astonishing to find that Conservatives are reading The Big Issue and George Monbiot is eating his hat. As the Minister said, all our views have changed. I want to make it clear that Conservative Members support more aid, and we support more trade, too. That is an extremely important point to get across. We have all moved on since the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and are now, I hope, firmly faced in the same direction.

I salute the deep knowledge and compassion of the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke). I was a pleasure to hear him speak. He talked about free trade and fair trade. When I was a teacher of economics for 16 years, I always taught my pupils that free trade implied a willing buyer and a willing seller. We should underline that in this debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry)—who has done a distinguished job as Chairman of the Select Committee—talked about the need for real political commitment, and he is absolutely right. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) also spoke with passion, saying that we have all been here before and that we must see some progress. He said that we have changed the political agenda because of the pressure put on by non-governmental organisations and pressure groups such as the Trade Justice Movement. I welcome that very much.

I wish that all political parties could put as much pressure on the political agenda as a lot of these new and vigorous groups, which perform an important role. However, they should not be surprised when sometimes the Government and the Opposition disagree with them. That is not to say that we disparage them; we are simply saying that perhaps matters are not as simple as the groups think. At least we are engaging with our constituents, all of whom now think it important that we address these issues and that we are not dotty if we do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) made an important contribution; he put very strongly a passionate point of view, for which I

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commend him. It is important that we have robust arguments in this House. If ever there were a man with his finger on the pulse of his constituents, it is my hon. Friend. He said that this was an important issue to all our constituents; he is, of course, right.

The hon. Member for Ayr (Sandra Osborne) was passionate about decision-making processes, which we should not neglect. The processes are obscure and esoteric in the extreme to the people we are seeking to help. It is no good us bashing ourselves around the head in Cancun—or putting wet towels around our heads in Brussels—if, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), every cow in the European Union is subsidised at $2 a day, which is twice as much as the living wage of half the world's population.

I have some questions that the Government need to address. There is not time for the Minister to do so now, but it would be nice if he wrote to me about them. What will the Government do to ensure that other deadlines are not missed as badly as the deadlines for other reforms—for example, the CAP where it is all slipping horribly? Ministers are up against a real problem with the original Doha deadline. We were supposed to finish the round by January 2005; it is now suggested openly that it will not be finished until 2007. We must address that.

What will the Government do about the increasing trade disputes that were put on hold under the peace clause negotiated during the Uruguay round, which expires on 31 December this year? What happens if we do not have something else in place? Several simmering disputes between the EU and the United States could boil up again, such as the foreign sales corporation tax and the fact that Brussels has won the right to impose up to $4 billion of tariffs in retaliation for America's failure to get rid of the tax provision.

We must face these issues, and one more in particular: genetic modification. None of us has the answer to this or can be certain. The only certainty I have is that we must keep our minds open. There is no doubt that there are possible benefits and we must not close off opportunities. The director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, Sandy Thomas, said in an important report this week:

The Minister of State said that we must ensure that each country has the right to make its own decision on GM. Yes, we must, but if we are not careful we will make that decision for them by excluding their products from our markets, which would be a backward step. We must embrace every opportunity for science and technology to improve the lot of the poorest people on the planet. That is what we should all do, and I hope that we shall be able to move forward in the next year to ensure that we address properly, sufficiently and effectively the needs of the poorest people on the planet.

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