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Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): On behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, may I welcome the Secretary of State's statement, sentiments and the report, which urges a huge increase in aid donations? The Secretary of State will know that every United Kingdom Government have failed to commit 0.7 per cent. of gross national income since they signed up to the UN aid target in 1970. New House of Commons Library statistics show that more than half the UK underspend, on both past and planned development assistanceworth £42 billionis by the current Government. When will the UK finally fulfil its promises on aid that every single Government in the past 35 years have broken?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman has noticed that this Government are the first ever to commit to a timetable for reaching the 0.7 per cent. target. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced
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last summer, we have set a date of 2013. The hon. Gentleman looks surprised at that. One of the reasons that we are in the current position is that, for 18 years, the official development assistance GNI figure for Britain fell from 0.51 per cent., where the Labour Government left it in 1979, to the 0.26 per cent. that we inherited when we were elected in 1997. That is not the way to go.
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): I greatly welcome the report, which underlines the commitment of the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister to Africa and international development. My right hon. Friend referred to this country's role in the G8. Does he accept that we need to pursue the same issues later in the year in our European Union presidency and emphasise our commitment, especially to education and health, the lack of which is currently so damaging in Africa?
Furthermore, although we often emphasise the failing countries and the problems in Africa, the Secretary of State rightly said in his statement that there were some success stories and encouraging signs there. Does he agree that we need to do more to praise those examples of what some countries are doing?
Hilary Benn: I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the European Union playing a part. That is why one of the issues that we are discussing is a new EU aid target, which will contribute to the pressure to be put on the G8 countries before Gleneagles. He also made an important point about examples of success: Africa is a many-splendoured continent. There are problems there, and we referred to some countries in that regard in earlier exchanges, but other countries are making remarkable progress. Mozambique is an example that illustrates the importance of peace and stability. Having been through a terrible conflict, it is now in the process of reducing poverty and has a number of donors backing the plan that its Government have drawn up to do that. That shows the potential that exists in Africa as well as the problems, and it is important that we focus on both.
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park) (LD): The Secretary of State is to be congratulated. This is an excellent report, as was the report from the Brandt commission more than 30 years ago. Many people in this House and outside know the problems of Africa; they also know the solutions. Will the Secretary of State tell us what is new this time? How will things be different?
One thing that is new is that it is the Prime Minister of the country holding the presidency of the G8 who has established the commission, and who has chosen to take it upon himself and our presidency of the G8 to make Africa one of the two priorities. That was not the case at all with the Brandt commission. That is one difference. The second is that we now have an opportunity to do something about this at a time when a process of change is beginning in Africa; that was not the case when the Brandt report was produced. There is now also a greater willingness on the part of Africa to say, "We are responsible for some of the problems of the continent, and this is what we are going to do about them." An example of that would be the recent events in
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Togo, where, following the death of the president, the constitution was subverted. With one voice, Africa said, "No, you cannot do that", and the people involved rowed back from their position. That is a significant test of a commitment to good government. So there are signs of hope, and there is a greater willingness to recognise the scale of the problem. We have the capacity to act, and it can be done. That is different from the situation at the time of the Brandt report but, as I said in my statement, in the end, we shall be judged by what we do.
Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his comments, but I urge him not to accept that corruption, however bad, should limit the amount of our aid. May I remind him that Lord Soper once said that if corruption halved aid, that would be a reason to give twice as much?
Hilary Benn: I agree with my hon. Friend. Kenya is a good example of that, because, while we are very critical of the failure to make progress on tackling corruption there, our aid is helping to make a real difference in that country. An example would be the newly elected Government's decision in 2002 to abolish primary school fees. We and other donors helped to pay for that. As a result, there are now a million more children in school in Kenya than there were before. So we need to get the balance right. We must ensure that our aid is provided in a way that protects it from corruption. At the same time, however, our high commissioner in Kenya has been absolutely fearless in pointing out the nature of the problem and the reasons that the Government there need to do something about it.
Miss Kirkbride : The Secretary of State upbraided me earlier when I suggested that democracy in Africa might put a brake on some of the corruption and poor governance there. I wonder whether he has gone back on that view in subsequent exchanges, and whether he recognises that there is a problem in that regard. Should not Her Majesty's Government be more actively engaged in these matters, so as to provide a better deal for Africa and for western taxpayers? Should not they positively incentivise those countries that are prepared to put in better Governments and to tackle corruption? That could result in a big difference between those countries that succeed, with western help, and those that do not. The citizens in the latter might then boot out their Government in a subsequent election.
Hilary Benn: I accept that point. The hon. Lady will no doubt be aware that, in the partnership agreements that we have with a number of African countries, we jointly draw up benchmarks to measure the progress that we expect to be made as a result of the partnership. They include benchmarks on governance, which arise out of commitments that the Governments themselves have set. I attach particular importance to that. I was not trying to make the point that we have no responsibility; I was trying to make it absolutely clear that, ultimately, I see the responsibility lying with those countries and their peoples. Of course we can support that process, however, and that is already reflected in our aid programme.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (Lab):
Does my right hon. Friend agree that to improve the economic
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viability of African countries, it is important to try to improve the higher education infrastructure as well as basic health and education? Has he had time yet to consider the requests that I made a little while ago to examine the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, based in Cape Town, and the proposal to try to extend that to a network of mathematical institutes in other African countries? That has been promoted by some academics in my constituency.
Hilary Benn: I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of higher education. That is one of the points that comes out strongly, as she will have seen, from the commission report. Last week, for example, I was able to announce a significant increase in funding for scientific research and development as part of DFID's research programme. As she will be aware, we have also revitalised the higher education links scheme, particularly to give a greater focus to science and technology and to the poorest countries in the world, including those in Africa. Certainly, I shall reflect further on her points about mathematics. It is important that we encourage, through a variety of means, the development of education at all levels, while being unapologetic, as we should be, about focusing the bulk of our aid programme on primary education, as that is the fundamental building block. If children are not going to school where they ought to be, it is difficult to improve their lives.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): Some 20 years ago, my hon. FriendsI use the term deliberatelythe Members for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) and I made our first visit to South Africa. One of the friends we met there, Bridget Collins, now works in an AIDS clinic in Khayelitsha, a shanty town that was hardly in existence then but is now home for 1.5 million people, such is the extent of the problems with which the South African Government are dealing. If the focus of our discussion is the effectiveness of the international community voice, what reassurance can the Secretary of State give Bridget that the international consensus on the origins of AIDS is having an impact on the internal debate in South Africa, which has threatened to hold up the delivery of support to sufferers of that terrible illness?
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