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Hilary Benn: I have not had that opportunity, although my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development is meeting that group on Wednesday. If there were any opportunity between now and then for me to meet them, I would very happy to make the time available, if that were possible to arrange.
On the hon. Gentleman's main point, I agree with him. Zimbabwe stands as a very bad example of governance. The country has suffered grievously as a
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result of the failure of governance. On trade, of course the hon. Gentleman is right. The report makes a powerful case for why we must take steps to enable Africa to earn and to trade its way out of poverty. Every one of us knows that in the end, that will be the engine of economic development on the sub-continent, and therefore the means whereby people will be lifted out of poverty.
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) (Lab/Co-op): I warmly welcome the report, especially the sections on good governance and corruption. The continent has seen economic growth and life expectancy largely go down rather than up over the past 30 years. One aspect that my right hon. Friend has not mentioned is civic society. I have friends in civic society in LusakaPete Henriot, a Jesuit, and his African colleagueswho are working to ensure that the Government listen to them and to hold the Government to account. Can my right hon. Friend suggest what initiative we can take, not to demand action for Africa, but to help foster good relations with civic society, so that the Governments of those countries can be held to account?
Hilary Benn: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of civic society. Effective governance requires that Governments are capable of doing the job and that the public and civil society organisations have expectations of the Government. In our development programme, we can be very proud of the fact that we are not only working a great deal with Governments to help them build their capacity, because in the end that is the only way that we will deal with the problem, but supporting a wide range of civil society organisations, because that will enable them to be a stronger voice on behalf of the people and communities whom they represent. They need to be able to say to Government, "This is what you should be doing", and to ask, "What has happened to the money? Why aren't you increasing expenditure on health and education?"in other words, to say all the things that we take for granted in political debate in this country as the means by which Governments are held to account. Africa needs exactly the same.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): May I put it to the Secretary of State that his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) was uncharacteristically disappointing, and give him an opportunity to put the record straight? Surely it is not colonialist or imperialist to criticise corruption in Kenya or abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe and surely our excellent high commissioner to Nairobi was absolutely correct robustly to point out that even the fresh Government in Kenya have been very weak on tackling corruption.
I am sorry if the right hon. Gentleman misunderstood what I said in reply to his hon. Friend. Of course it is not colonialist to criticise corruptionwe are at one on that. I was simply pointing out the implication that it is solely down to us to sort out the problem, becauselet us be truthfulit is not. That is why we have to recognise, first, that the steps that Africa itself is taking to tackle the problems of corruption and to promote good governance represent a change
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compared with the past; and secondly, that, as I said in response to two previous questions, the people who will ultimately do that will be the people of those countries themselves. We can help the process, but we cannot do it all. In the end, people will judge not only what we do but what happens in Africa, and that should be a matter for the people of those countries.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on an excellent piece of workhis personal commitment has made it a very fruitful document, although it remains the start of this venture.
On corruption, I wholeheartedly agree that the people of Africa themselves will ultimately resolve the matter. However, some elements of corruption have an international aspect, and the people of certain African states are not currently capable of dealing with that. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that as we start this work we should continue the discussion and dialogue on the reform of international institutions so as to hold out the prospect of establishing an international corruption court comparable to the International Criminal Court. That would signal to the kleptocrats who have robbed Africa, and denied their own people, of so many resources that one day they may be held to account.
Hilary Benn: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about ensuring that there are internationally effective mechanisms to ensure that money that is stolen and flees the continent of Africa can be returned. That means, first, that each individual country must have in place effective mechanisms for doing that and, secondly, that we must ask ourselves collectively whether they actually work. Our money laundering legislation was not strong enough, so we strengthened it through the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. We need to continue to reflect on our experiences and, if the system does not work, to find more effective means of ensuring that such money is returned to where it belongs.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The report is excellent, but the test will be success at the G8. It behoves all of us who want the report to work to lobby colleagues in G8 countries. Will the Secretary of State help us with that by providing a bullet-point summary of what the Government hope to achieve at the G8? What does he hope that the minutes will show after the G8 conference? Could such a summary be provided in the G8 languages, because we must carry many others with us? The debate is not between ourselves but between us and the G8. We need to be able to lobby those countries, otherwise the Government and the commission could have put in all that work only for it to be a lost opportunity unless it translates into action in the summer.
The hon. Gentleman is right about the big test being to turn the recommendations into action, especially by the G8 at the Gleneagles summit. In essence, the Government want, first, a doubling of aid to Africa. That means persuading countries, which may not be entirely convinced, that more aid will work effectively. The analysis in the report is clear that absorptive capacity exists and that properly used aid undoubtedly makes a difference.Secondly, we want to reach agreement on up to 100 per cent. multilateral debt
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relief for all the reasons that everybody understands, not least because debt relief provides predictable sources of finance. Thirdly, we want to create the political space to allow the trade talks in Hong Kong in December to open up trade on a freer and fairer basis so that Africa can trade and earn its way out of poverty.
Those are the three big issues and the hon. Gentleman is right that we will all have to work hard to persuade other countries that may not currently be persuaded or those in which there is not much domestic pressure to do any of that. If there is no domestic pressure, we must create international pressure.
Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor on their work. Will my right hon. Friend please pass on our thanks to Myles Wickstead and his team?
It is salutary to remember that, in 1964, Africa's GDP was the same as China's. How things have changed 41 years on. One pan-African solution would be to use our three cultural battalionsthe British Council, the Open university and the BBC World Serviceto create an open primary school for Africa. Where is that on my right hon. Friend's priority list?
Hilary Benn: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's expression of appreciation to Myles Wickstead, Nick Stern and others who were responsible for writing the report. His point about the 1960s is interesting because at the time of the process of independence, the world was more worried about what would happen in Asia than what would happen in Africa. The past two generations have turned that concern on its head.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting proposal about using the three institutions that he mentioned to increase opportunities for education. From my visit to Africa, I know how much those who have access to British Council facilities rely on them. However, the first priority is to ensure that the remaining 40 million or so children in Africa who do not go to primary school get into a classroom, while working on other ideas such as the one my hon. Friend suggested.
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