Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Commission for Africa

4. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the work of the Commission for Africa. [197143]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): Following the second successful meeting of the Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, the commission will produce a consultation document shortly, on which it will seek views within and beyond Africa in the run-up to Christmas. I hope that hon. Members will continue to contribute to its work over the coming months. I expect the final report to be published in March 2005.

Helen Jackson: My right hon. Friend will agree that everyone favours giving more support and resources to the development of Africa, but not just on our terms; on African terms. The New Partnership for Africa's Development is an African-owned agenda. How will he ensure that there is some African ownership of the work of the Commission for Africa as it prepares for the G8 summit, not only at Government level, but through all parliamentarians and the men and women of Africa?

Hilary Benn: This is the big challenge for the commission. One of the steps that we have taken is to ensure that the majority of its members are African,
10 Nov 2004 : Column 830
so that is a good starting point. I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend and others have done through their links with parliamentarians. I know that she is particularly active in AWEPA, the Association of West European Parliamentarians for Africa. The purpose of producing the consultation document is precisely to allow people to see how the commission's thinking is evolving and to contribute to the process. In the end, it is a matter of what recommendations emerge, and I expect that a very strong theme will be what the rest of the world can do to support Africa in helping itself. One practical example is the support that we are giving to the African Union-led initiative in Darfur to increase the size of the ceasefire monitoring team. That is backing an African initiative to tackle conflict in the region.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): Will this commission actually decide or do anything? If all it does is regurgitate conclusions and policy recommendations already determined by other individuals and bodies, with which we are all familiar, however worthy they are, is there not a most unfortunate danger that the whole exercise could look as if it was more a matter of public relations and the promotion of the Prime Minister on the world stage than a genuine attempt to do something about the problems of poverty in Africa?

Hilary Benn: If I may say so, I am loth to take a lecture of that sort from the hon. Gentleman, and perhaps I might give one practical example of what we are doing. On Africa, the Government are not interested in public relations; in fact, we are in the process of trebling the United Kingdom's development assistance to Africa. Why? The answer is, because we have a rising aid budget. The test of the commission will be the extent to which it supports the process in 2005 in order to get the world to take the steps that need to be taken to help Africa to have a different experience in the next generation from that of the previous one. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, we are taking such steps on volume of aid—as I said, we are in the process of trebling aid, in marked contrast with what went before—on debt relief, for which we have a new initiative, and in respect of the world trading system. What is different is that a serving G8 leader has decided to establish the commission, and has said that Africa will be one of the two priorities for the G8 presidency. That sounds to me like pretty practical politics.

Barbara Follett (Stevenage) (Lab): Recognising the pivotal role that conflict resolution played in Africa and in the work of the Commission for Africa, will my right hon. Friend say what progress is being made in Sudan?

Hilary Benn: The situation in Sudan, and in Darfur in particular, remains extremely difficult, although I very much welcome the signing of the humanitarian and security protocols at the peace talks in Abuja. This represents a considerable step forward, provided that the parties to those two agreements honour the commitments that they have entered into, and fulfils one pledge that the Government of Sudan gave to the Prime Minister when he visited Khartoum just over a month ago. The humanitarian situation remains difficult,
10 Nov 2004 : Column 831
although more aid is getting in. The political process in Abuja will, in the end, provide the solution to the conflict in Darfur.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): The Commission for Africa offers a unique opportunity for us all to work out from first principles how best to help people escape from, and then stay out of, poverty. Notwithstanding the ravages of AIDS, the problem of corrupt Governments, the misery of displaced people and, indeed, the problem of professionals leaving to work elsewhere—about which we have just heard—does the Secretary of State agree that establishing private ownership and property rights is absolutely essential to building economic progress and, more crucially still, to sustaining such improvements in the long term?

Hilary Benn: Indeed it is important, because economic development will be the real engine of poverty reduction in Africa, as it is in countries such as China and India. At the same time, however, effective states need to be built. That is why increasing aid, our action on debt relief, opening up the world trading system—so that trade is fair for developing countries, as opposed to unfair—and, indeed, private sector development, will have a part to play in enabling Africa to proceed much more successfully than it has until now.

Mr. Duncan: I welcome the Secretary of State's words. Some might see them as a slight break with family tradition, and they are all the better for that. But returning to first principles, what study will the commission make of the effectiveness of his own Department's policy in Africa in terms of where it concentrates effort? Would not it be better for the United Kingdom to concentrate its resources on countries with which we have an historical affinity, rather than trying to cover the entire continent, thereby spreading ourselves so thinly that our efforts are rather less effective?

Hilary Benn: We do not try to cover the whole continent; indeed, those African countries in which we have development programmes largely reflect our historical relationship with such countries. But there are other countries with which we have no historical relationship, of which the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a very good example. Now there is an opportunity for peace in the DRC, with an albeit fragile peace agreement and a transitional Government in operation. It would be a mistake if we and other donors did not provide support in such countries, because unless the DRC can consolidate the peace that the political process has delivered, the prospects for development in that part of Africa will not be as good as they would otherwise be.

Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East) (Lab): I agree with my right hon. Friend entirely. We should be taking steps now to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not visited on the next generation of Africans. Will he take the opportunity at the next meeting of the commission to implore our European partners to scrap the common agricultural policy, a subsidy that protects European farmers at the cost of African producers?
10 Nov 2004 : Column 832

Hilary Benn: We are not going to make progress in the world trade talks without making further progress on reform of the common agricultural policy, particularly on reducing export subsidies. Progress has been made over the last 10 years, during which export subsidies have reduced by more than half in Europe, but they still represent an obstacle to developing countries earning and trading their way out of poverty. I am confident that the commission's recommendations will include some direct comments on the need to conclude the world trade talks in a way that benefits developing countries.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): One of the commission's key recommendations next year is likely to be to boost funds for international development through the international finance facility. The official view on the IFF, as set out in a parliamentary answer, is:

but the unofficial view, set out in a background note that was helpfully sent to me at the same time, is:

Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be risky for developing countries to believe that the IFF was going to provide all their solutions? What are the contingency plans if the IFF does not fly?

Hilary Benn: The first thing that we can do is to demonstrate that the IFF model works. That is why we are currently working with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation on an immunisation pilot IFF, which will allow many more children to get immunised than is currently the case. It will also show other countries that remain to be convinced that the model works and that it is the one practical proposal on the table that will raise additional development finance now, which is what we need if we are to make progress towards the millennium development goals. The question that the sceptics have to answer is, if not the IFF, what other proposals are there for raising the additional finance now? The finance is needed now to invest in the long-term development of Africa and other developing countries. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The House must come to order.

Next Section IndexHome Page