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Westminster Hall

Thursday 26 May 2005

[Mr. Edward O'Hara in the Chair]

Millennium Review Summit

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Gareth Thomas.]

2.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas) : I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for allowing this debate on the millennium review summit. In Britain, we often take for granted the lasting peace in Europe that we have enjoyed during the past 60 years. We also often take for granted the global trading rules that allow us to buy electronics from China or clothes from Lesotho, the eradication of smallpox and the successful containment of the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus. Those achievements are due to many nations and many remarkable individuals within those nations, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Edward O'Hara (in the Chair): Order. Before we proceed any further, I must inform hon. Members that, under the rules of the House, there are no Deputy Speakers in Westminster Hall.

Mr. Thomas : I stand corrected, Mr. O'Hara, and I am grateful for that information.

Although the various achievements that I initially outlined are down to many nations and many remarkable individuals within those nations, they are in no small part due to the role played by the United Nations. Through all its guises, forums and agencies, the UN helps to bring nations around the same table to talk, to set international standards and rules and to co-ordinate activities such as disease control. In Afghanistan, for example, a young girl who was denied the right to education under the Taliban owes in part her better life chances to the UN. Other nations have, of course, played their part, but through the UN's co-ordination of support to her Government, that young girl now has a better chance of going to school, drinking clean water and staying healthy.

In Africa, those who are HIV-positive and who are perhaps dying of AIDS rely in part on the United Nations to help them stay at school and gain access to care and the anti-retroviral drugs that they need. In short, they rely on UNICEF, the World Health Organisation and UNAIDS, which help in their different ways to support people touched by the AIDS epidemic.

Sixty years since its formation, the UN remains critical to our increasingly interconnected world. It has done and is doing great work, but it could improve its performance in some areas. We must recognise that the roles played by the UN are becoming even harder to fulfil as the world changes and the challenges become even more complex and interlinked. We cannot say that we have succeeded in securing development, peace and
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human rights for many of the world's citizens, which are things that we perhaps take for granted in the United Kingdom.

That is why the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called last year for radical thinking on how the UN can drive forward its action on development, security and human rights and on how the UN needs to change to be fit to reach its goals. Eventually, that call led to the publication of the high-level panel report and the millennium project. In turn, Kofi Annan drew on those reports to produce his report, "In Larger Freedom", which was published in March and which sets out the agenda for the millennium review summit in September. At the summit, the heads of all 191 nations of the UN will have the opportunity to commit themselves to action in respect of four elements of the report—development, security, human rights and UN administrative reform.

The summit will provide an opportunity to review progress towards meeting the millennium development goals to which the international community signed up five years ago. The international community promised that it would do what was necessary to ensure by 2015 that every boy and girl is in school, that no child dies from a preventable disease and that world poverty is halved. Given present rates of progress, primary education for all will not be achieved until 2130, which is 115 years late; poverty will not be halved until 2150, which is 130 years late; and the elimination of avoidable infant diseases will not be achieved until 2165, which is 150 years late.

The millennium review summit gives us the opportunity to refocus international attention on what we need to do, the practical commitments that will make changes on the ground and the reforms to the UN system that are necessary to make it fit to play its part in that process. The Commission for Africa and the Secretary-General's reports, both of which came out in March, agree that it is possible to achieve our promise of halving world poverty, which will require both developing and developed countries to fulfil their existing commitments. Developing countries need to fulfil their commitments to govern well, to build sound institutions, to tackle corruption, to protect and promote human rights and to uphold the rule of law.

Some progress has been made. Democratic elections have taken place in the past few years in Ethiopia, Mozambique, South Africa and Ghana. Some 24 African countries have signed up to review each other's governance performance and to make improvements based on those assessments. Eight countries are implementing, and another 12 are committed to implementing, the extractive industries transparency initiative.

Improvements have been made in the business of government, and that progress is beginning to pay off. Average economic growth in Africa is about 5 per cent.—the figure is much higher in some countries—which is having an impact on the available resources to tackle poverty. In Mozambique, for example, the percentage of the population who live in poverty has been reduced from 69 per cent. to 54 per cent. in the past five years. In Malawi, half of all children did not go to school in 1990, but by 2001 that fraction was less than one fifth.
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John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): The Minister referred to the extractive industries transparency initiative. Is he aware of, and would he be concerned by, evidence demonstrating the involvement of British citizens—or, indeed, a British citizen—in oil deals in Darfur, the contents of which did not comply with the guidelines in the initiative?

Mr. Thomas : Because we want to make sure that transactions involving oil and other extractive industries are transparent and do not act as a disincentive to countries to improve their governance and sort out their economic situation, which has happened in the past, such allegations would give rise to concern. I am not aware of the allegations that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, but if he wants to talk to me later, I shall be more than happy to have a conversation. As his intervention suggests, more needs to be done on improving governance and on ending conflicts more generally.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): As my hon. Friend has said, ending conflict, particularly in Africa, is the nub of the problem. I do not entirely go along with the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), who has said that conflict resolution is needed before development strategies can be implemented. Does my hon. Friend think it a weakness in the millennium development goals that the targets do not specifically mention conflict resolution? Surely conflict resolution should be included in the millennium development goals.

Mr. Thomas : The millennium development goals do not need specifically to refer to conflict resolution. If we want to make progress on tackling poverty, most people recognise that we must first tackle conflict. Indeed, the Secretary-General's proposals, which will be discussed at the millennium review summit, include several proposals on tackling conflict and—this is equally important—on building an effective peace in the immediate aftermath of a conflict. Sadly, we know that 50 per cent. of conflicts that have stopped eventually start again, so the international architecture must be improved if the number of conflicts that restart is to decrease.

Mr. Drew : As the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) knows, the African Union is working incredibly hard in Darfur in its own limited way, but the problem lies in the ad hoc way in which the UN, or whoever is acting on behalf of the UN, works. There are no ground rules to determine the deployment of a peacekeeping force, and we could take up with the UN the dream of a multilateral force that could be sent in at least to prevent a conflict from getting out of hand. Will the Government consider that suggestion seriously?

Mr. Thomas : I accept the substance of my hon. Friend's point, which is that we need to do more, particularly in the immediate aftermath of a conflict, to put the right arrangements in place to prevent that conflict from restarting and to speed the process of development. The Secretary-General's suggestion of a peace-building commission backed up by a peace-
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building fund to enable measures to be implemented quickly is very positive, and nations can discuss it further in the run-up to and at the millennium review summit. It builds on some of the lessons that the international community has learned in not only Darfur, but other conflicts.

Developed countries, too, need to deliver on their commitments. We must ensure that our policies are not only good for us, but good for developing countries. On trade, for example, we must deliver as early as possible on the Doha round, which concerns allowing developing countries to benefit from increased global trade, by providing greater access to our markets, by reducing agricultural subsidies and by providing support to help build the capacity of countries to trade for themselves. In that context, the WTO meeting in Hong Kong at the end of this year is key to making progress.

On the environment, we must continue to tackle climate change, which will have a particularly damaging effect on poor countries and poor people, by taking action now and developing a new international framework for beyond 2012.

On research and development, we can provide incentives so that our pharmaceutical companies are interested in developing drugs that tackle diseases that affect not only our communities, but the developing world.

On corruption, we can ensure that we in northern countries are transparent in all our dealings with developing countries and that we ratify the UN convention against corruption.

We can directly support developing countries in the important ways to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) alluded. We can more effectively support countries when they come out of conflict through more and better aid and more effective humanitarian assistance.

Finally, developed and developing countries can work together to invest in an international system that works.

At the millennium review summit, we want to prioritise the need to secure more and better aid in order to make progress on those objectives, particularly in relation to Africa. In that context, the excellent European Union agreement, which was reached on Monday, to make more money available for development assistance in the next 10 years is particularly welcome, and I hope that it will set an example for other nations to match and even to go beyond what the EU has done. We must provide more and better aid and support for countries moving out of conflict and engage with the wider reform of UN humanitarian efforts and development organisations.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): We are all very pleased to see the increase in resources devoted through the EU. However, the Minister will be aware of the great concern, which has been expressed for some time on both sides of the House, about the efficacy of the EU's aid. Has he received sufficient assurances that that extra money will be well used and well targeted, and that it will be properly accounted for? What assurance can the Minister give the Opposition that that increase in resources will really make the difference that everyone wants?
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Mr. Thomas : The concerns expressed, particularly by the Opposition, have been about the way in which the European Commission has spent the member states' money that it had allocated for development systems. During the past five years in particular we have seen substantial improvements in the distribution of development assistance. More could be done, however, and we are discussing with the European Commission the further reforms that we want to see. In particular, we want the European Union to commit more of its money to the very poorest countries, as opposed to middle-income countries.

More generally, there is an issue about how EU states, in committing themselves to give more aid, can better co-ordinate that assistance to reduce the transaction costs for developing countries. Sadly, there are too many donor missions to developing countries, whose civil services and Ministries often have limited capacity. The most effective officials and Ministers often have to spend too much of their time talking to donors about how to spend their money. A series of proposals on improving the effectiveness of the international aid effort were agreed through the development assistance committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. They are currently on the table, and we are discussing with other nations how we and they can co-ordinate assistance more effectively.

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): On the point about the effectiveness of aid, has the Department had the opportunity to reflect on the Tanzanian Government's decision to break their links with Biwater, following what is considered to be a failed arrangement for privatising the delivery of water services to Dar es Salaam? The Department has provided many millions of pounds to assist in the privatisation of utilities, so will it now reflect on whether that decision was a wise one?

Mr. Thomas : Of course we are aware of the decision that the Tanzanian Government have made. I am not in a position to comment on it, because it may be subject to legal action.

On the hon. Gentleman's more general point, it is important that the UK continues to prioritise helping to improve sanitation and increase the access of the very poorest people in the world to supplies of clean water. We shall clearly need the private sector's expertise in that process, and it must be for developing country Governments to decide how that expertise is used. Once they have asked us to help them help their populations gain access to clean water, and once they have decided how they want to do that, it is incumbent on Governments such as our own to provide support in the most effective way. Of course, we need to learn lessons from the example of Tanzania, as the hon. Gentleman said, but we perhaps also need to understand the bigger message, which is that there is a still a huge amount to do to give the people of developing countries access to clean water. More resources, and the expertise of those in the private sector, must be brought on board to help with that.

We have set out our objectives for 2005, and they include more and better aid and supporting countries that are moving out of conflict. We also want a series of UN reform measures to be achieved at the millennium review summit. The UK is uniquely placed to act as a
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powerful motor in that process. As president of the G8, the UK has called on the richest nations of the world to sign up to action on Africa and on climate change at Gleneagles. That will help to set the agenda for the September summit. From July, the UK will also be president of the EU, which means that we will speak on its behalf at the summit and can help to drive forward its commitments both before and afterwards.

The millennium report project, on which Kofi Annan's report partly draws, argues that global aid will need to rise initially by about $100 billion a year if we are to achieve the millennium development goals. The Commission for Africa report states that we need to double aid to Africa if that country is to achieve the millennium development goals. That would require an increase of about $25 billion a year. The aid is needed because poor countries do not have the resources necessary to increase growth, to invest in building their capacity to trade and, more broadly, to reduce poverty.

The Government are committed to increasing our aid to the agreed 0.7 per cent. of gross national income by 2013. We are calling on other countries that have not already done so to make a similar commitment. The target agreed by the EU earlier this week is an important signal of the progress that is possible, and we hope that that will put further pressure on other countries to deliver.

That incremental growth in aid will, frankly, not be sufficient. With that level of increase, it will be too late to achieve the millennium development goals. We therefore propose trying to front-load the aid by raising additional resources on the international markets through the international finance facility. Kofi Annan's report endorses that facility, and there is growing international support for the IFF. France, Italy, Germany and Sweden have already declared their support. We want the facility to be launched this year. We hope also to launch a pilot facility—the idea is supported by France, Italy, Sweden and others—to provide immediate finance for immunisation; that will save the lives of 5 million children now and of 5 million adults later.

We are considering French and other proposals on other innovative ways of raising additional resources for development. We also want to build on the success of heavily indebted poor countries and 100 per cent. bilateral debt relief by securing commitments to our proposal for 100 per cent. multilateral debt relief. We have already agreed to pay our share of eligible countries' multilateral debt service; I welcome the fact that Canada and the Netherlands have agreed to join us, and I hope that others will do so.

We want to secure commitments this year to improving the quality of aid. As the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) rightly said, more needs to be done, and quickly, to maximise the effectiveness of the international assistance that we hope will become available. Numerous studies in recent years have shown that our aid would be considerably more effective if it were provided in the right way. Governments who are trying to decide whether to recruit more nurses or to build more clinics are not always sure whether they will have the donor resources in the long term; it is an incredibly difficult decision. As I said in answer to the hon. Gentleman, many countries are faced with the difficulty of too many donor missions
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taking up the time of their most effective Ministers and officials. Donor countries are already committed to improving the way in which they give aid. We need to ensure clear targets and indicators in time for the millennium summit, so that donors can be held to account.

We welcome Kofi Annan's proposal that additional resources must be provided to support developing country-led plans for scaling up efforts to achieve the millennium development goals and other priorities. We need to support their plans to invest in governance, in opportunity and growth, and in the health and education of their people, including their sexual and reproductive health and rights—a subject on which the international community has been too reticent, but which is critical to making progress not only on HIV and AIDS but on other millennium development goals.

As well as more and better aid, another priority for the UK in September will be improving the way in which we support countries emerging from conflict. In January, the UK published a paper on fragile states that committed us to do more, to be proactive, to find new ways of getting help on the ground in traumatised or embattled places, and above all to use our development programmes to deal with the root causes of conflict. Kofi Annan is right to say that security and development are not sustainable one without the other, so we support his recommendation for a UN peace-building commission, a peace-building support office—and, indeed, for a standing fund for peace-building.

At the moment, no single place within the international system is responsible for supporting countries emerging from conflict to get from the peace-keeping phase to sustainable, peaceful development. We also need to address the gaps in international co-ordination, in planning and implementation, and in the availability of finance for that phase. We are therefore working with other Governments and the UN on the details of that peace-building commission and fund; we hope that that key proposal will be signed by other nations at the millennium summit.

A further priority is to make progress on improving the UN's response to humanitarian crises; it is in the interests of the world's most vulnerable people. During the past 12 months, we have had plenty of reasons for wanting to tackle that issue. No crisis is simple, and we all need to improve how we respond to them. The Asian tsunami and the crisis in Darfur have demonstrated that we could and should be doing better.

The UK has already played an important role in calling for reform. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a speech at the Overseas Development Institute in September that set out some proposals for reform of the humanitarian aid system. That included making clear our belief that new funding should be made available to enable the UN to deploy assistance early, at the moment when a crisis develops, without having to wait for donors and their bureaucratic processes to raise new funds.

We also want to make sure that resources are available to spend on the crises that the international media have, perhaps, forgotten—in places such as Haiti, Colombia and those that bilateral donor programmes
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are, perhaps, failing to reach. We also want to see improved leadership and co-ordination from the UN system in developing countries. In the very worst crisis, the Secretary-General should be able to authorise his humanitarian co-ordinators to direct the different UN agencies on the basis of one joint assessment of need, using one common plan and drawing on one source of funding. Using that logic, the UK has already offered some £40 million of humanitarian funding for the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Sudan for him to deploy in places where he judges it can be spent most effectively.

We also need more funding for disaster risk reduction. We need to strengthen the UN's disaster reduction agencies. Clearly, if we can help countries to plan for natural disasters, we can mitigate their impact on people. We are pleased to see that Kofi Annan's report picks up many of the ideas out there about the reform of the disaster risk reduction process, and we are pushing to get more nations to sign up to them at the summit in September.

The millennium review summit offers an excellent opportunity to push for a step change in how the UN development system operates on the ground. Progress has been made on issues such as the competition for scarce resources by agencies, the jostling over responsibilities by some agencies, inflexible procedures, fragmented decision making and too much bureaucracy in the UN system. The UN can point, for example, at the establishment of UNAIDS as one example of how the different parts of the UN system can adapt and come together to offer a more co-ordinated and effective response to the AIDS epidemic.

However, the UN development system and its agency programmes can do more to co-ordinate with national development plans such as poverty reduction strategies. In his report, Kofi Annan suggests that reforms could include, in the longer term, grouping the various agencies, funds and programmes into

Beyond the millennium review summits, those are the sorts of issues on which we need further discussions, to deliver a more strategic UN development system for 2015 that works more effectively with other parts of the international architecture.

We are a nation that has always looked beyond its borders; we have always felt a responsibility to those in need whom we have never met and for tackling the poverty that still scars our world. The Government recognise that it is in Britain's interest to have a strong, effective United Nations. If the UN did not exist, we would have to invent something very like it. The organisation is by no means perfect. However, without the UN, our ambitions to tackle poverty, promote security and challenge human rights abuses would be all the more difficult to achieve. The summit in September offers the opportunity to build on the work of the Commission for Africa and the G8 summit in Gleneagles, to deliver the progress that we all want on more aid, more debt relief and fairer trading rules. It offers the opportunity to take forward specific commitments that will help with those objectives—specific commitments on peace and security, on setting
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up a peace building commission, and on reforming the human rights machinery of the UN system, the humanitarian aid system, and, potentially, the wider development architecture of the UN.

We are just 10 years from the deadline for meeting the millennium development goals. The summit is a key moment in our journey towards that goal, but it is clear that more needs to be done. We believe that the Secretary-General's report represents an excellent agenda for the summit, and we hope that other nations will play their parts in making the summit a success.

3 pm

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): First, may I say how pleased I am that the Government are holding this debate on this important issue. I was delighted that during the general election campaign, on world poverty day, all three main parties used the chance to reiterate the importance of poverty reduction, and I was pleased to witness in the Chamber this morning the consolidation of that consensus between the shadow Chancellor and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Helping poorer countries and poorer people to escape from poverty is one of the most compelling challenges of modern times, particularly in the run-up to Britain's presidencies of the G8 and the European Union, and to the millennium review summit.

Our country is a rich one. As individuals and as a nation, we have a responsibility to assist others who live in poverty. We have always made a significant contribution to helping other countries across the world, as the Minister rightly said, and have earned widespread respect for the scale and quality of aid that we have given over many years. That has been the case under Governments of both Conservative and Labour colours. Indeed, the last Conservative Government led the world in providing debt relief for poorer countries. I hope that that will continue and that we can build on the consensus on international development issues.

The millennium review summit in September will highlight how far off track the developed world is from meeting the millennium development goals, but it is important that we recognise that there has been some progress towards meeting the targets in those goals. There are some encouraging statistics in the UN millennium project report. For example, between 1990 and 2002, average overall incomes increased by 21 per cent.; the number of people in extreme poverty declined by an estimated 130 million; child mortality rates fell from 103 to 88 deaths per 1,000 live births a year; life expectancy rose from 63 years to 65; an additional 8 per cent. of the world's people received access to water; and 15 per cent. acquired access to improved sanitation services.

However, there are still huge disparities in rates of progress. In Asia, rapid progress is being made. In Latin America, the middle east and north Africa, progress has been mixed. In sub-Saharan Africa, the situation remains severe: there is continuing food insecurity, a rise in extreme poverty, stunningly high child and maternal mortality, and many people live in slums and appalling accommodation.

The first target is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. The proportion of undernourished people is falling slowly in most regions of the world. In sub-
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Saharan Africa, some countries have seen progress, but overall proportions of undernourishment remain high, with, sadly, little change.

The second target is to achieve universal primary education. In most regions, there has been progress in primary education, but, again, sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia are still significantly off track. Sadly, over 100 million children across the world still do not have access to or do not go to school.

The third target is the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. Equality remains an unfulfilled goal, and the education parity target for 2005 will be missed in many countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia.

The fourth target is the reduction of child mortality. Child mortality rates have generally declined, but progress has slowed in many regions, and reversals are being recorded. The mortality rate remains extremely high, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

The fifth target is the improvement of maternal health. Maternal mortality remains unacceptably high in every region, reflecting low public attention to women's needs and inadequate access to sexual and reproductive health information and services.

The sixth target is to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases. HIV/AIDS affects at least 40 million people. It is pandemic in southern Africa and poses a serious threat, particularly to women and adolescents, in every developing region. Tuberculosis is on the rise in Africa and is a common co-infection with HIV/AIDS.

The seventh target is to ensure environmental sustainability. Over the past decade all developing regions have experienced substantial environmental degradation that could well worsen as a result of long-term, man-made, global climate change, and that issue must be addressed.

The eighth target is to ensure a global partnership for development. The global community is starting to head in the right direction, but the gap between rich and poor countries continues to widen. There is clearly much to be done if we are to achieve the millennium development goals. I trust that the millennium review summit will help to spur world leaders into honouring those promises and commitments made by 189 countries in 2000 as well as those made under the Monterrey consensus in 2002.

We all share a desire to achieve the goals by 2015, but at current rates of progress the goals will not be achieved for many decades; the Minister highlighted the fact that it will take approximately 130 years to achieve the education goals. Urgent action is required to make these ambitious goals a reality, and the UK has a significant and important role to play in that.

The Conservative party recognises the tragic scale of abject poverty across the developing world. Our long-term objective is to ensure that developing countries graduate from dependencies to fully functioning democracies with successful economies. Poor countries should be encouraged and enabled to create wealth and work their way out of poverty; to that end we should encourage free and fair trade, reduce EU tariff barriers and endeavour to ensure that the EU removes export subsidies. We recognise the importance of development
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aid, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where geographical, political and economic conditions are particularly challenging. That is why we are committed to giving more aid.

By applying Conservative principles to the aid that we give, we believe that we can achieve more for the developing world. For example, there is some evidence to suggest that UK bilateral aid has the potential to be more effective than some multilateral aid. We have stated that it is our intention to increase the Department for International Development's spending by £800 million over three years, taking it from £4.5 billion in 2005–06 to £5.3 billion in 2007–08. Measure for measure, those are exactly the same as the planned figures announced by the Government.

Like the Government, we are committed to working towards the 2013 UN target of spending 0.7 per cent. of national income on aid. The recent agreement by the EU 15 to achieve 0.51 per cent. by 2010 is certainly a welcome step, and I hope that that can be achieved. In 2003, the UK spent 0.34 per cent. of national income on aid. Total UK aid by 2007–08 is set to reach 0.47 per cent. of GDP. I should be grateful if the Minister would confirm whether the Government are still on track to meet that target.

It is clear that well spent aid works; the best example is the eradication of smallpox. British aid, in particular, has helped to immunise millions of children against polio. It supported Kenya's efforts to introduce free primary school education, helping 1.2 million children to get the schooling that they had been denied. Clearly, however, the quality of aid is just as important as the quantity.

We support the broad goals of campaigning organisations such as Make Poverty History and the Trade Justice Movement. They and their supporters around the country have succeeded in putting such issues right at the top of the political agenda. However, in the short to medium term there are a number of steps that the Government should be taking to work towards meeting the millennium development goals by 2015. The first issue is European Union aid, a subject highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt). A quarter of DFID's budget is currently allocated through the EU. However, the EU is currently widely recognised as one of the least effective aid channels, as only 52 per cent. of EU overseas development aid goes to low-income countries. The Government should take firm and decisive action to ensure that the EU changes its allocation of aid, so that more is spent on low-income countries.

Secondly, we need to channel more aid through non-governmental organisations. There is increasing recognition within the international aid system of the role that can be played by NGOs such as the Red Cross and Save the Children, to give but two examples, given their commitment, energy, focus and, often, their speed of response. DFID spent only £223 million through NGOs in 2003—much of it on humanitarian aid. NGOs can also be effective in longer-term interventions that build poor countries' capabilities. We believe that DFID should increase the proportion of aid allocated through NGOs by actively seeking appropriate opportunities to use the NGO channel.
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Thirdly, we need to implement stricter policy on governance requirements. Economic development stalls when Governments do not uphold the rule of law, pursue sound economic policy, make appropriate public investments, manage public administration, protect basic human rights and support civil society. Aid clearly works best where leaders exercise good governance. If a recipient fails to manage aid responsibly, it should be redirected through more effective channels such as NGOs.

Fourthly, there is the issue of aid distribution in lower income countries. Aid is most needed in lower income countries, but we must not forget that there is severe poverty in south America, the Caribbean and India. While it is right and proper, for obvious reasons, that sub-Saharan Africa is the main focus in the fight against poverty, we must not neglect our duties elsewhere in the world.

Fifthly, there must be freer and fairer trade. India and China are fine examples of poorer countries that have created their own wealth by working and trading their way out of poverty. Rapid economic growth lifted 500 million people out of poverty in those countries between 1981 and 2001; when poorer people are given the freedom to prosper, they do so. However, many changes must take place if developing countries are to benefit fully from trade. Protection for developed countries at the expense of the developing world must come to an end: it is both immoral and hypocritical. For every £1 that rich countries give to poorer countries in aid, those countries lose £2 due to our protectionist trade barriers. Trade must be made fairer by pressing the EU to allow poor countries to have tariff-free access to our markets, which would benefit British consumers and poorer producers.

The EU must reform the terms of the "Everything but Arms" agreement so that poor countries can reap all the benefits of access to the European market. Many developing countries still prefer the Cotonou criteria, which are more favourable than the more recent "Everything but Arms" agreements.

The common agricultural policy hurts British taxpayers and consumers and is detrimental to the interests of developing countries. It encourages over-production, distorts prices, imposes high tariffs on imports and subsidises export dumping in the developing world that is neither free nor fair. We believe that the multilateral, rules-based trading system overseen by the World Trade Organisation is vital for promoting trade, wealth creation and poverty reduction.

Debt relief is of key importance; we welcome the progress that has been made on bilateral debt relief and we support the principle of 100 per cent. cancellation of debts to multilateral institutions. Debts owed to the International Monetary Fund should be funded through the sale or revaluation of gold reserves. However, we must remain cautious. Some countries' debt repayments have actually risen thanks to debt cancellation, and responsible lending and borrowing is vital to ensure a sustainable end to the debt crisis. The international credit standing of recipient countries must not be compromised.

Finally, I want to put several issues to the Minister to ensure that he and his civil servants register that they should be debated and discussed at the summit. Many
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nations and international institutions lack a coherent millennium development goal-based approach to reducing poverty: this must be addressed. In a vast number of countries with development programmes supported by the IMF since the adoption of those goals, there has been almost no discussion of whether the plans are consistent with the achievement of millennium development goals.

In its country-level advisory work, the UN millennium project has found that multilateral and bilateral institutions have not encouraged countries to take millennium development goals seriously as operational objectives. For instance, there is no established framework for differentiating support to countries with corrupt Governments from support to those that are weak but willing. Most development processes are stuck in the short-term. Development is a long-term process, but the key processes for international partnership are short-term in their orientation.

The international agencies, such as UNICEF for child health, are usually asked to focus on small pilot projects. In general, the technical UN agencies on the ground are not prepared to help countries scale up to national programmes. Multilateral agencies are not co-ordinating their support; multilateral organisations frequently compete for donor Government funding to implement small projects instead of supporting country-scale plans and budgets. In low-income countries, assistance levels are generally set more by donor preferences than by developing country needs.

Aid flows are also not growing as fast as promised. Even the much-heralded Monterrey commitments have not fully materialised. Developing countries wonder whether developed countries are genuinely committed to and serious about the goals.

Debt relief is not aligned with those goals. The targets for debt relief are based on arbitrary indicators, such as debt:export ratios, rather than millennium development goal-based needs. Many heavily indebted poor countries retain excessive debt owed to official creditors even after relief. Many middle-income countries are in a similar situation, and currently receive little or no debt relief.

We on this side of the House support the millennium development goals, but recognise that there is a significant amount of work to be done in facilitating their delivery. The Government will find us supportive of their efforts.

3.16 pm

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak from our Front Bench on this issue, so few days after being given this post.

Having listened to the Minister and the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), it is clear that consensus will break out among the parties, although I do not say that there has not been consensus in the past. From all the material that I have read from my full in-tray, it is clear that, generally, there has not been a major disagreement over the priorities, principles and goals to be adopted in pursuing the eight millennium development goals with vigour, although there has been an exchange of views on the best way to achieve that outcome.
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In view of the fact that I am only days into my new job, I tell myself that I should be listening and learning rather than pontificating too much. I am sure that the many others who wish to take part in this debate will be pleased to know that I intend to keep my remarks brief, so that they can be part of the telling from which I might learn.

I should also explain that I come to this debate in something of a time warp. I am a lifelong member of the World Development Movement and was an active campaigner through the 1980s and into the early 1990s, when I did not have the luxury of time to commit quite so much effort to it. Consequently, the discourse in which I have been involved started at Brundtland and ended at around the time of the Pergau dam. I therefore have a certain amount of space and time to fill to ensure that the various bits of the jigsaw are put in place so that I can see the full picture, which, I have to admit, I cannot yet see.

However, I will reflect on one point made by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness about the public commitment to the need for the achievement of the millennium development goals and to the campaign launched under the banner of Make Poverty History, which is supported by a large number of NGOs and which I hope will be very popular. From all the debates I have had in my constituency and elsewhere, I believe that we are talking to a public who appear to be schizophrenic on the issue. On the one hand, they will attend rock concerts in support of the need to draw attention to the urgent plight of and the problems of poverty in less-developed countries. On the other, when we start to look at the priorities for the UK Government, we hear, sometimes from the mouths of the same people, the phrase, "Charity begins at home." They put the full stop after the word "home", which means, in other words, that charity ends at home and that we do not need to look beyond our front door or garden gate. They say that we should meet our own concerns about domestic policy—for example, by getting our infrastructure and health service waiting lists right, rather than spending all this money on people beyond our shores whom we do not know.

The implication is that it is somehow acceptable in a Christian country to use that expression to mark the end of the debate, but I remember that it had a different meaning in sermons on how charity begins at home, which I listened to in the chapel in my constituency that I attended. The emphasis was not on the word "home", but on the word "begins". In other words, charity begins at home but does not end there. We must encourage people to recognise that, while we need to consider the problems that we face in this country, we should not be blind to the desperate concerns of those in less developed countries.

We all know about those problems as we are engaged in this debate in Westminster Hall, but I am sorry to say that we have not persuaded the vast majority of the general public that we should share a degree of responsibility for those who are less fortunate than ourselves. Many problems that we experience in this country are those of wealth: obesity, addictions and lager loutism, for example. Those are not the problems of poverty, although we should turn our attention to them as well, but, as responsible politicians, we also have an evangelising role beyond the Palace of
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Westminster. This is a matter not just of going to summits and debating matters here, but of ensuring that we engage with NGOs and the media to get the message out that we have a shared responsibility.

The Minister drew our attention to the importance of the discussions at the UN summit in September in New York. He not only emphasised the need to deal with the eight goals, reflect on the excellent work of Professor Sachs and consider the fact that we will miss most of those goals by a wide margin unless we take urgent action, but addressed issues of governance and conflict resolution, which I believe are fundamental to achieving many of those direct goals.

The Make Poverty History campaign has brought together some of those goals in the three prongs of trade, debt and aid. As well as the summit in September, the forthcoming WTO round in December—which was mentioned earlier—and the UK's important responsibility in taking on the EU presidency in the coming six months, there are other significant milestones. If the G8 meeting at Gleneagles in early July achieves the goals that many of us would like it to achieve, it could set a strong and effective agenda for a productive UN summit in September.

Let me deal with the three issues. First, on trade, there is a strong debate between the free traders—the liberalisers—and those who argue for fair trade. I notice that the Government's attitude has warmed slightly, particularly on the economic partnership agreements, about which I asked the Secretary of State yesterday. There is concern that, through the EU and under those agreements, less developed countries might find themselves forced into accepting circumstances of liberalisation that might not necessarily be to their advantage. If the Secretary of State meant what he said—I have no reason to believe that he did not—I would like the Minister and his Department to ensure that, in future negotiations in Europe, less developed countries have a genuine choice as to whether they sign up to those agreements.

Mr. Drew : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a further potential barrier to all these discussions is the incoming president of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz? Even if Mr. Wolfowitz goes through a dramatic transformation and suddenly becomes much more interested in development issues than he appears to have been in the past, his reputation will not make those discussions any easier. Could not that be a problem?

Andrew George : The hon. Gentleman knows full well that I agree with him, because I signed his early-day motion on the subject in the last Parliament. I share the serious concerns on that front and it is important that neither the IMF nor, in particular, the World Bank put further pressure on less developed countries to liberalise their markets against their best interests. I entirely agree.

The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness commented that the common agricultural policy encourages over-production. We have yet to see the results of reform, although we hope to see them, but since the beginning of this year there should have been fewer incentives for over-production. I hope that this is
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successful, so that at least one element of the over-production and the potential for creating a climate in which there is significant dumping in less developed countries evaporates. Other aspects of CAP, such as the sugar regime, have yet to be resolved. In the debate on the future of the sugar regime, NGOs and British sugar interests are finding that they have a great deal more common ground, particularly in respect of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, which recognise that they have had the benefit of preferential agreements with EU member states, especially the UK. In any reform of the sugar regime, we need to work carefully through the transition from what we have now to what we should have, not prop up any sugar policy unnecessarily.

On debt and aid, like others I welcome the announcement made earlier this week. We are clearly going in the right direction, but we need greater evidence from the EU that it can effectively and sustainably eradicate poverty. That is where the emphasis should be in future. It has already been said today that a lot of aid programmes have succeeded in propping up corrupt regimes or siphoning off aid indirectly, so that those for whom the aid was intended did not benefit.

Underlying all this is a concern that we should not create through generous aid programmes a further problem, which is a culture of dependence in less developed countries. Aid programmes are important, but getting trading relationships right must be the top priority, so the Government must wield their muscle in the G8, the United Nations and, through the EU, the WTO ministerial conference in December.

3.30 pm

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I welcome the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) to his new job. If he despairs of adults in international development, he could do a lot worse than go into schools, where young people now have the benefit of a global dimension to their education, which means that there will be a big change in attitudes and a real understanding of the need to continue the commitment that he has outlined.

I welcome the debate and have a message for my hon. Friend the Minister: when he considers the millennium summit and the performance on the millennium development goals, he should consider the position of women. I say that not, at least in this case, because of feminist ideology, but because the MDGs on which there has been underperformance measure what happens to women. If the MDGs are to be achieved, female equality is probably the biggest single issue that must be tackled, and I shall largely focus on it.

We should welcome and celebrate the progress that has been made on achieving the MDGs and recognise the enormous amount of work, which is often carried out in adverse circumstances, that has taken place in some developing countries. The international community, and particularly the Labour Government, has turned some of the indicators around by reducing the number of people in poverty and providing universal primary education. It is also important to recognise that some countries and some areas not only are not improving, but are getting worse. The MDGs serve a great purpose as goals in their own right, and they are a
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good way in which to understand some of the complexities of development, but it is important to consider the fine-grain detail to try to understand why things are going wrong and how we can put things right.

As has been said, the area that is doing least well and in which no MDGs will be met is sub-Saharan Africa, and I shall refer to one measure of underachievement there. To achieve some of the basic MDGs, it is assumed that countries will experience 7 per cent. economic growth, but none of the sub-Saharan countries has been able to sustain such growth year on year, and some such countries' economies are declining. However, I shall not focus on that matter because it is frequently discussed.

I want to examine the two MDGs on which there has been the least progress—maternal and infant mortality—and consider the measures that might be needed. Although they are separate MDGs, they go together because what happens to women and what happens to their children is fundamentally linked, for obvious reasons. To achieve the two MDGs, we must examine measures that deal with women, women's health and the health of young children.

I draw the Minister's attention to "The World Health Report 2005—Make every mother and child count". I am not sure whether he has seen it, but it is excellent. It starkly sets out some of the difficulties and costs borne by women and children in developing countries. Page 10 contains the figures, which I am sure that the Minister will consider, on the enormous increase in maternal mortality rates in Africa, and the report points out similar problems in eastern Europe. The report states:

It gives the startling statistic that out of more than 500,000 women who die each year as a result of pregnancy and childbirth, fewer than 1 per cent. are from developed countries and more than 99 per cent. are from developing countries.

Let us consider the kind of measures that are needed to start to turn those figures around. Complex strategies are needed to overcome the complex issues that affect such tragedies. Such issues include the need to train staff and keep them in-country—we all know about the problems resulting from the haemorrhage of trained staff from sub-Saharan Africa.

Difficult interventions are required, particularly in the case of acute problems in childbirth, where quite expensive facilities and services, which the countries concerned do not have the resources to provide, are needed. Even if facilities exist, women are often not taken into hospitals or centres in which they can have their children safely, in many cases because their husbands will not allow it.

I saw the consequences of the problems involved in providing proper care for pregnant women and women in childbirth when I visited southern Sudan. I was introduced to some birth attendants who had been properly trained and equipped by a NGO. Everything seemed to be working fine, although they did not have a hospital. Because there were no buildings, they did not have anywhere to store their equipment, and all they had left was one little drum to put on a woman's stomach to listen to a baby's heartbeat. That was all the equipment that they had left a couple of years after
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money had been spent on training and equipping them. That is a harsh reminder of the environment in which birth attendants work and the effort that will be required to scale up services to ensure that women get proper maternity and obstetric care.

High mortality rates for the under-fives are linked to high maternal mortality rates, and, again, we need to understand why that should be. The issues include changing social trends in developing countries, the care of newborns, weaning and the care of the older children.

I want to highlight the MDG on HIV/AIDS and other diseases because of its impact on women. We often assume that HIV/AIDS, TB and other illnesses are gender neutral, but most authorities say that that is not the case. For example, the UN representative who discussed HIV/AIDS and children at a recent meeting in London highlighted the fact that gender is one of the dominant issues  when it comes to tackling HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. HIV/AIDS is responsible for some of the worst trends in maternal mortality and, because of the close relationship between women and children, it also has a strong bearing on what happens to babies and children. Indeed, a doctor at Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital in Soweto told me that the death of the mother predicts the failure of the child.

As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, I am particularly concerned about orphans and vulnerable children. World Vision UK, which the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) highlighted the other day, has set out some of the telling factors that result from children being orphaned at an early age. Its work shows that 90 per cent. of orphans and vulnerable children do not have proper food compared with about 10 per cent. of other children. If one talks to some of the local civil society organisations that operate in sub-Saharan Africa, one finds that community feeding schemes that provide basic food are fundamental to such children's well-being. When my hon. Friend the Minister examines how to improve the prospects for orphans and vulnerable children, he should consider supporting some of those schemes and providing low-level financing for community feeding to ensure that such children are kept alive and have a reasonable prospect of growing into functioning adults.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend accept that many orphans are victims of war and that unless there is a comprehensive system to support them in local communities, they end up fleeing to one of the African capital cities, where they end up as victims of crime, drugs and all the other abuses of young people? We must ensure that local systems of support are implemented rather than waiting for those orphans to become street children in a capital city.

Ms Keeble : My hon. Friend is right. The number of orphans and vulnerable children in sub-Saharan Africa has been huge for a long time. If hon. Members examine the figures, HIV/AIDS has roughly doubled the number of orphans and vulnerable children, turning a manageable problem into what has been described as a brick wall that Africa is heading towards. The issue is whether the countries concerned can deal with the scale of the problem.

The orphans and vulnerable children who are victims of the spread of HIV/AIDS are part of a hidden tragedy. We tend to focus on the illness and the need for medical
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responses rather than considering the consequences, of which OVCs are probably the most significant. I take my hon. Friend's point that orphans and Africa is a major issue, and there are a number of different causes that require urgent attention and intervention. Although we all understand the importance of children, they do not have votes and voices, and they are often last in the pecking order when it comes to allocating funds for services.

Many other hon. Members want to speak, so I shall conclude. In preparing for the summit, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will examine some of the factors that I have mentioned, in particular the fact that poverty and disease in the developing world often have a female face. If those issues are to be tackled fully, the gender dimensions of the situation must be understood and dealt with.

When we examine the MDGs, we should focus on which are failing to be met and why that should be. When we increase aid to the developing world, we should direct it at the areas in which the MDGs are not being met. The money should deal not only with the big strategic issues, but with the complex issues of providing proper health care for women and ensuring that infant mortality is also addressed.

We should ensure that attention is paid to ensuring that reproductive health issues are tackled so that women can take some control over their lives and experience proper birth spacing—the UN has some difficulties with that subject, particularly because of the United States' position. That would allow different ways of tackling HIV/AIDS to be implemented without our hearing quite so much about how abstinence is the sole answer. When we celebrate the achievement of the MDGs—I am sure that we will—we should ensure that we have achieved them all and that we have not left little pockets in which sections of the community continue to suffer and pay the price of poverty.

3.46 pm

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): The United Nations was, of course, set up in 1945 as the chief agent of collective security. It is perhaps salutary to recall that it was only four years ago that it was described in the United Nations millennium declaration as

It is also only fair in the circumstances to record that many people and countries around the world will conclude that, due to errors of omission or commission on the part of the United Nations, that common house is short of bedrooms and other floor space for suffering peoples.

If I do not make the next point it will certainly be made to me. I am conscious of the truism that the United Nations is as good and effective only as the sum total commitment of its individual members. My purpose is not to slate the United Nations for the sake of it. That will not greatly advance matters. It is the apex of the multilateral machinery that we have at our disposal and I—in common, I suspect, with most colleagues from the different political parties in the House—respect it, believe that it has a contribution to make and want to see it strengthened. In short, I am not a narrow
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nationalist or an impatient isolationist. I am an internationalist and believe in the potential of the United Nations as an organisation. However, it is as well to look at some of the commitments made in the millennium declaration and to take stock of where we now are. Inevitably, it will be a selective choice given rather fleeting attention.

Mr. Gareth Thomas : I want to intervene before the hon. Gentleman gets into the body of his speech to refer back to his intervention on me, when I said that I was not aware of particular accusations. The Department is aware of accusations, although whether they are the particular accusations to which the hon. Gentleman was referring, I have no idea. I repeat my offer to discuss that with him afterwards.

John Bercow : I am grateful to the Minister. We could have a conversation across the Chamber now. Some people might think that that would guarantee that it was a closely guarded secret, but I cannot be certain that it would. I should like to take advantage of the Minister's offer and discuss that particular matter at a later stage—perhaps at the conclusion of the debate.

The millennium declaration states:

That is what the signatories profess; but of course, to be brutally candid, it is not true. It is not correct to say that the signatories have spared no effort. Let us give just one example—the continuing crisis in Darfur. Too little money has been devoted, too little thought has been given and too little logistical back-up has been provided. There is a lack of political will, which has been, and continues to be, a major obstacle to the achievement of peace in Darfur.

We know also that the massive oil interests that China has in Sudan have prevented concrete measures from being taken. My view—which I have frequently articulated and should like to reiterate—is that what we need, quite apart from a robust sanctions policy against the Government of Sudan pending the achievement of peace in Darfur, is a peace enforcement mandate for Darfur. We need a dramatically increased African Union presence—if an African Union presence it is to be—and a blue-helmeted force, with all the financial backing that would thereby flow from the United Nations.

Peter Luff (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the remarkable work that he has done in highlighting the issue consistently in recent months. I can bring him some moderately good news. I understand that the African Union today tabled a request for the equivalent of £252 million of aid, of which by lunchtime some £110 million had been pledged by donor countries to assist the union in its peacekeeping work. Something good is beginning to happen, and I hope that the other £142 million will follow.

John Bercow : That is extremely good news and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for being the bearer of glad tidings. Progress has been incredibly slow. Let us be clear about what we have witnessed and what we know
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continues to happen in Darfur— aerial bombardment, mass shootings, widespread rape, theft of livestock and destruction of crops. They are all part of the cocktail of barbarity that is visited on the long-suffering people of Darfur on a daily basis. It has to stop. It is estimated that between 10,000 and 35,000 people a month are losing their lives. The reality is that, for all the world has said, it has not cared that much about the serial slaughter of black Africans in Darfur. The world may say that it cares, but it has not done so in the only way that matters, which is practical.

Jeremy Corbyn : I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman's analysis or with what he said about the need for an African force and about the abominable behaviour of the forces that are killing so many people. Does he accept that in the long term a peace settlement would have to consider the people who have migrated to the region because of environmental destruction in other parts of Sudan? We must consider the pressure on resources if we are to bring about a wider peace. The conflict is, in part, one of many environmental wars in Africa.

John Bercow : I accept that that is a relevant consideration. Another important part of the equation is consideration of the rights of people who have moved away from Darfur and in the process found that their land has been stolen. That is a big factor, but I certainly accept what the hon. Gentleman says and do not think that there is a cigarette paper between us on the matter.

Ms Keeble : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his points tie up with those that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) made about the need to consider conflict areas carefully and not assume that we cannot provide assistance, and the need to prepare for peace much earlier? That can help to stabilise situations such as the one that the hon. Gentleman describes.

John Bercow : I would not want to take an absolutist view on the matter, but there might be some difference between the hon. Lady and me. The reason is that the Government, it seems to me, have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayer. We must be careful about committing substantial sums of money in development assistance—as opposed to humanitarian aid—to countries where there is not even a peace agreement or a basic framework for civilised relationships. However, I would not want to rule the idea out in all circumstances. There may be particular projects that we could support. The Government should be prepared to consider them, but it would be wrong to suppose that the Government could in all conscience commit huge sums of money to development assistance to forestall a continuation of violence or, better still, to prepare the ground for a substantial peace, simply on an "I hope" basis. The British taxpayer is entitled to expect something a bit more solid and concrete before major resources are committed. I am glad that the issue has excited some response.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab) rose—

John Bercow : I would like to make some progress on other points, as I know that other hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate, but how can I resist the exhortations of the hon. Lady?
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Ms Taylor : I am most grateful. I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman with great care. He is saying things that, sadly, I have had seriously to think about when considering the UN's peacekeeping competence in the Balkans. NATO had to be deployed after what were, quite frankly, horrendous murders and tyrannies.

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting to the House that the United Nations peacekeeping forces are well past their sell-by date—that they have become less and less valuable—in dealing with corrupt regimes such as the one in Sudan, and that the UN will seriously have to consider a model that is more similar to NATO's if we are to achieve the kind of peace that is necessary if aid is to work in any way, shape or form?

John Bercow : We must think boldly about the sort of approach that is required in places such as Darfur. The word "peacekeeping" is a misnomer, as peace does not exist in any material sense in Darfur. We should not play semantic games or use easy terms such as "peacekeeping", which does not reflect the reality on the ground that my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and I encountered on our recent trip to Darfur or that I witnessed for myself during my first visit in July last year. It would seem more sensible to recognise that peace does not exist, to decide whether it falls within the ambit and responsibility of the UN to seek to ensure that it does, and, if we decide positively on the latter, to try to give effect to peace—the result that we seek—through a peace enforcement mandate with the blue helmets and the resources of the UN.

The millennium declaration also states:

To be candid, the reality is that that has not happened and is not happening. Member states are not contributing the scale of resources that would allow for fulfilment of the millennium development goals by 2015 or any time near that date. A ratcheting-up of resources is certainly needed. As that is common ground, I shall not focus on it any further.

I believe that we all agree that, irrespective of the determination of Governments to commit resources through aid, a bigger element of the equation in improving the life chances of people in developing countries will always be trade. Trade is massively bigger than aid could ever be. We may have different views about fair trade versus free trade, but we can confidently say that developing countries are unfairly denied access to western markets on the basis of alleged anxieties on our part about health and safety. The reality is often that that is simply a smokescreen for continuing self-interest and protectionism.

Similarly, we can safely say that, more often than not, the trade that takes place is not free trade. It is heavily subsidised to the advantage of the European Union and the United States, which is why I endorse the call made by my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) to make progress towards a successful conclusion of the Doha development round, which must involve a massive and speedy reduction in trade-distorting agriculture subsidies for western agricultural production. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and I debated that
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very point on the Floor of the House only a few days ago. I do not know how it will be possible to persuade rich and articulate defenders of self-interest in the United States to change their ways, and it will not be any easier to do that within the European Union, but we must abandon the guff; the hypocrisy is too stomach-churning to continue with any longer.

If we do not want to achieve a dramatic improvement in the fortunes of poor people, we ought to be honest enough to say so. We should acknowledge that keeping our living standards just as they are and placating professional and powerful political lobbies in our own democracies is more important to us. I hope that that is not true, but it simply does not wash to say that we want to improve the opportunities for poor people in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, and then to fail to adopt the measures required to achieve that purpose.

Ms Keeble : I do not want to delay the hon. Gentleman's speech for too long, but I would like him to address an issue that is a serious problem for his party; it is not so much of a problem for my party. In addition to policies that promote growth, there must be policies to redistribute wealth. China has the fastest growing economy in the world, but it also has among the highest numbers of poor people. It cannot tackle that poverty because it has a complete dearth of redistribution policies. This subject is not just about trade and economic growth; it is also about redistribution and good social policies, and members of my party, as socialists, understand that.

John Bercow : I certainly agree that countries need good social policies, but we should be realistic about our ambitions. There are certain things that we can expect to do in the short term—or even the medium term. I do not honestly think it is realistic for our country, the European Union or the United States to seek to tell countries whose performance is already improving exactly what scale of redistributive policy they should adopt. Yes, they should use increased resources to develop decent systems of social services, and they should have methods of ensuring that the poorest people in their countries are able to get their feet on the ladder of commercial opportunity and educational advance, but I am cautious about setting out too many specific and high-falutin' goals which we might not be able to attain.

My hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness referred to the importance of the MDGs and the Conservative party's support for them. I respect what he said, and I agree with it. However, all of us also know that those goals have proved to be very ambitious, and that they go far beyond the scope of the existing, and rather unsatisfactory, policy commitments that nations have made.

I respect the point made by the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), but it would be good if we could learn to walk effectively before seeking to sprint. We are not even walking very effectively at present, and I am therefore a little reluctant to be tempted down the utopian path that the hon. Lady wishes me to tread with her.
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Jeremy Corbyn rose—

John Bercow : I am tempted to give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I think that if I do so I shall be even more unpopular with my colleagues than I have already managed to become. I may give way to him shortly, if he behaves well for the next five minutes.

Jeremy Corbyn : What I wish to say is part of the point that the hon. Gentleman is making.

John Bercow : Oh, very well.

Jeremy Corbyn : I am trying to help the hon. Gentleman along the road to utopia and social justice; I know that he is searching for that road, and I want to help him. He is anxious not to make over-prescriptive demands on poor countries, and I understand where he is coming from on that, but does he accept that many British, European and north American companies are making incredibly large profits out of investing in very low-wage—indeed, slave-labour—economies in the far east, and that we need a much tougher International Labour Organisation that can improve the living standards of the poorest workers in the poorest industrialised countries in the world?

John Bercow : I am very sceptical about that; it sounds to me like a model for grossly increased regulation. If there were to be a body charged with the task of devising the most burdensome and onerous set of regulations known to mankind, I cannot think of anyone more appropriately qualified to be at its apex than the hon. Gentleman. To make business more uncompetitive, to increase the load of regulation, to stifle competitive endeavour, and to encourage an effectively Marxist ethos as far across the world as possible, would, of course, be the daily joy of the hon. Gentleman. I do not myself think that it would advance the interests of the poorest people in the world.

I believe that globalisation is, on the whole, a great force for good. It is also pretty well inevitable. Whereas the hon. Gentleman, whose knowledge and integrity I massively respect, is probably hostile to much of that phenomenon, I think that it has, on the whole, been a good thing. If we look, for example, at countries such as Vietnam, where there has been a dramatic improvement in living standards and economic growth over the past 15 years or so, we see the impact of companies such as Nike. There will be those who say, "Oh no, they're capitalists. They're exploitative. They're bad guys. We don't approve of them. They must be regulated. They should be trodden on. They shouldn't be allowed to behave in that way." But I do not agree. Paying someone $54 a month to work in a Nike factory might not sound very good to us or to the professional salariat of western non-governmental organisations, but it is a damn sight better deal than somebody in Vietnam would get if they toiled away for 14 hours a day in a rice field. We have to operate within the framework of the country whose interests we are considering.

The millennium declaration says:

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In essence, that raises an issue of governance. Without labouring the point, I simply remind the Minister in a constructive but robust way that those aims have not been met in relation, for example, to Zimbabwe. We have historical obligations, and the international community has burked those obligations in relation to Zimbabwe. There has been no serious attempt to ensure better governance, and I appeal to the Minister, and in particular to Foreign Office Ministers, to redouble their efforts to persuade the South African Government to recognise their responsibilities to bring about a step change in the behaviour of that despotic regime.

On the subject of human rights, which the hon. Member for Islington, North and I have debated previously on the Floor of this Chamber, the Secretary-General of the United Nations has a much better idea for improving the UN's human rights machinery than does the high-level panel. The panel does very good work and correctly diagnosed the weaknesses of the United Nation Commission on Human Rights, but it flunked the opportunity to make a satisfactory proposal for reform. As the hon. Gentleman will recall, it suggested that membership of the Commission should be made universal—after its analysis had demonstrated that there were consistent breaches of human rights by member states. It acknowledged that the organisation had variously been chaired by Nepal—not a noted supporter of human rights and democratic pluralism—and by Libya, and that it is, indeed, currently being chaired by Indonesia. Yet, after all that, it said that membership should be made universal. The problem is the automaticity of membership and the Buggins's turn criterion for chairmanship. That should change, and the Secretary-General is right to suggest that there should be a smaller human rights council, membership of which should be determined by behaviour, not geography. That would be a tremendous improvement, which I hope that colleagues could support.

There is much to do. I have had an opportunity to focus on some of the themes, eloquently aided and abetted by several hon. Members, who have made helpful interventions. I support some of the work that the Government are doing. The United Nations has a future, but it must tackle its own internal problems. If it is to have credibility in talking, for example, about the millennium development goals in respect of women, it clearly must do something to counter the welter of accusations about the maltreatment and sexual harassment of its own staff.

There is work to be done. The only beneficiaries of a weakened or, worse still, eliminated United Nations would be the most powerful people in the world, who do not really favour any collective machinery. If we are united in this Chamber in believing that there is an important role for a multilateral organisation committed to collective security, the advancement of human rights and the extension of opportunity to the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the world, we should unite in trying to find ways forward for an organisation that has good intent, but which, in recent years, has sadly lost its way.

4.10 pm

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), who is always thoroughly challenging. He
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provokes, with some determination, and I know he believes that through argument we will ultimately reach the reality of responses that, we hope, can deliver change. I must be careful about how I respond to him, as he once developed a relationship with my daughter, who I always hoped would be a strong Labour party member. She came away from a discussion with him believing that he had integrity and enthusiasm.

Ms Keeble : What did you do to her?

Ms Taylor : I locked her up. I decided that that was probably most appropriate at the time. However, it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Gentleman. Of course, I agree with some of what he said to the House today, although most certainly not with it all, but I appreciate that we are here to think. Sometimes, thinking outside the box is the most difficult thing for us all, but it is essential that it should be done.

Rarely has a campaign produced as much commitment, debate, determination, eagerness to deliver and demand as that surrounding the millennium goals. If my constituency experience is anything to go by, that series of intentions to deliver is something that I will not be allowed to forget, as my constituents will ensure that I focus on it. They will not let me take my eye off it, and will question me again and again about delivery.

Not just one group of people are involved in that, as all people, old and young, are keen to have an input to the debate. The united churches in my constituency—people whom, on the whole, I see as incredibly tolerant—become demanding and angry when they discuss the millennium goals. I receive an avalanche of letters from them, and cards that make demands. I believe that those involved employ lobbying techniques that the best commercial enterprises would do well to follow—they are so good at delivering their punches.

The detailed knowledge of those people is inspiring. They know what the Chancellor and the Department for International Development have said. They remind me about that, and they maintain their focus. Unlike the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), I think that a gutsy approach is being taken to the millennium goals and that there is a serious determination that they should be achieved.

I want to refer to a statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), who spoke of an increasingly global dimension in education, which is very focused on presenting statements about the needs of others around the world. She said that this is changing attitudes. I think she is absolutely right.

In the past 18 months, I have visited five different primary schools—there could have been five more, but my diary gets chock full, like everyone's, so they could not be fitted in—and in all of them the young students were keen to ask me how the millennium goals would be delivered. One group was so insistent and persistent that I invited them down and they had 30 minutes with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The people who are interested in such matters are seriously intolerant of our lack of action, determination and enthusiasm. They make it quite clear to me that we must emphasise in particular the fact that unless there is clean running water and sanitation, the opportunity for
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children to attend primary school will not exist. They look with disdain and disgust on the fact that—as a world and as a country—we are so wealthy, yet we cannot even deliver clean water and sanitation facilities from which children can benefit. Their disdain is appropriate, and we should be taking further and serious action, although I am talking about not only Great Britain.

I am keen to say that schools do not just talk; they act. WaterAid has been the focus of attention at the schools I have visited, and I have received more than one donation from those youngsters and given it to WaterAid. Northumbrian Water in my patch holds that charity very dear, so I ensure that donations reach the appropriate people. The children then ask how the money is being spent. Like good accountants, they want to see a full list of the delivery factors. As politicians, we must listen to those youngsters. They are our voting public of the future. If their integrity is to be matched by our action, we must up our stakes.

I know of a school where the head teacher and the children have a relationship with Aynssi Yina, a school in Ghana. That relationship is not carried out by e-mail, because that is not possible, so the children write and the children from Ghana write back. The head teacher from Great Britain has visited the school in Ghana and the head teacher from that school has visited here. Both share their views on how best to deliver. It really is incredibly gratifying to see that young people are doing what they can do best: they aim at the local element and work with it to deliver.

When I was in India, children who lived in the countryside attended school in tin sheds. It was their school. They sat on the floor and used chalk boards. There were 40 or 50 children in a room, and when it rained they could not hear themselves breathing because of the noise on the tin roof. They were there, delivering.

Three schools in my constituency—one Catholic, one Church of England and one with no denomination—have delivered a profoundly valuable relationship with those children. When we consider the millennium goals and say that they are the responsibility of others such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the G8 and so on, the children say, "Hold on, it's our responsibility to deliver. Let's be focused about how we have an input to the argument." That is so profoundly valuable.

That is enough about schools for the moment. I want to end my remarks by speaking about India and about us and local matters. We have spent a small amount in investment in a small part of India—£4 million. The local people spent that money to ensure that their drains were sunk and that water taps were provided. Given that we are in the 21st century, I felt thoroughly ashamed when a lady told me that she had a chimney in the room where she cooks and that it ensures that her children do not have runny eyes and that their chest problems are significantly less. That shows how small items can deliver enormous good health and hope.

That lady said that she had one sewing machine, that members of the family could read and that the girls were attending school—what a joy! My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North was right when she
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said that the girl in the family invariably has to support her mother in the domestic duties. The kit may be very small, but it delivers enormously in my terms.

In India, I met the Self Employed Womens Association—a small group of women who were positively invigorating. I was so pleased to meet them. They said that they had obtained a small Government grant, set up their own bank and paid their grant back, owing no one. They had set up their own small agricultural enterprise, growing plants and food, and had a market stall. They were using their talents and making household furnishings. The women and their families read; their small rural communities felt included.

The pieces of kit that I am speaking about are incredibly small. I am talking about not the millennium goals, the 100 million children who do not receive an education or the fact that we are spending billions, but the very small bits of kit that are making a significant difference to people's lives.

SEWA asked, "Dari, why do you all operate such protectionist mechanisms that prevent our trade from being successful and why, when our goods are sold anywhere, even under fair trade regulations, do we get so little money back compared with what the goods were sold for?" We are a shabby lot. There is so much that we could do without much effort.

The debate is incredibly important. I do, of course, support the millennium goals. I want my Government to deliver, I want our country to deliver and I want the international community to be in on this. But sometimes we must realise that, however many good intentions we have, we might wait for ever if we rely on others to accept their moral responsibilities. Perhaps we should focus on the smaller projects and use them to deliver for communities that desperately need them to be delivered effectively.

I found it difficult to agree with everything that the Liberal Democrat spokesperson, the hon. Member for St. Ives, said about the private utilities. I know that Northumbrian Water has provided its expertise and competence for nothing through WaterAid because that is its chosen charity and its way of giving. We must understand that private utilities do some amazingly good work around the world, and that it is wrong to suggest that they are all operating on the same basis for profit and to reduce the impact of what they are doing in these countries.

Corrupt regimes must be sorted out. I followed the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Buckingham very keenly. I have been criticised a great deal for the fact that I voted for our troops to be deployed in Iraq. Perhaps I should take care when I say this to the House, but when I see people wringing their hands over Darfur and asking what on earth we should do when a tyrant is ripping his country to pieces, I am very tempted to say that it is time to give the United Nations the muscle that it deserves.

John Bercow : I entirely agree with the thrust of what the hon. Lady has just said. Does she agree that there is also the major problem of despicable and barbaric regimes that are not the subject of regular or prominent news coverage? It is immensely important that we do not become or seem to be indifferent to them. The example
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that springs to mind is that of Burma, which is subject to a brutal military dictatorship, but has not been on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council. Nor has it been the subject of a single oral statement in this House since records began.

Ms Taylor : I listened keenly to the hon. Gentleman, and I totally agree with much of what he said. There are such tyrants who regularly seem invisible, and their peoples are emasculated as a consequence. It is no good us wringing our hands. We should give the UN Security Council the tools to do the job, and we know that that will be difficult in terms of force size, command structure and how forces are deployed.

We know that there are problems but, my goodness me, to reduce the importance of the United Nations in the way we have over the years in the glorious hope that it could deliver does less for the UN—in fact, it undermines it—while allowing tyrants to have their own way in their countries in the most corrupt manner.

I am keen to return to the millennium goals. My hon. Friend the Minister introduced the subject with gusto, commitment and integrity. I want him to know that I want the millennium goals to work. I am distraught that we are already floundering on the goal of getting children into primary school education, especially girls, but it is inevitable that we will flounder. This is not a straight track and delivery is not easy. I am delighted, however, that even though the mountain is a difficult one to climb, we have put our boots on and begun to make tracks.

4.27 pm

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) is absolutely right to focus on the interconnectedness of the world and on what we can all do in our constituencies and in our local schools, as well as on the bigger picture.

There will be three key summits during this critical year for Africa and the developing world: the UN millennium review summit in New York this September, the G8 summit in Gleneagles in July and the World Trade Organisation conference in Hong Kong in December. Each summit shares the same aim: to meet the millennium goals and to halve world poverty. If such a reminder were needed, on every day of every summit 30,000 children will die in Africa.

Ahead of the G8 summit, a powerful advert is being broadcast by the Make Poverty History campaign. It shows various celebrities clicking fingers reflecting how every second, as someone snaps their fingers, a child dies in the developing countries. In France, the actress Kristin Scott Thomas clicks her fingers, while in Germany, Claudia Schiffer clicks hers. It is reputed that even the Chancellor is clicking his fingers here, between meetings. It tellingly emphasises just how many children die in Africa at any time.

By the time the Prime Minister hosts the G8 summit at Gleneagles in just over 40 days, Make Poverty History believes that 10 million Britons will be supporting the call for increased aid, debt relief and trade justice. Hopefully, it will get that support, but how do we get the support of the United States? All of us in this House support more aid, less debt and better trade. There may be differences on the details of the
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effectiveness of aid expenditure and other things; it was good to hear the hon. Lady extolling the virtues of water privatisation. There may be differences on the balance between free and fair trade, or on the future of the heavily indebted poor countries initiative.

However, if a television presenter gave us just a second—a click of the fingers—to say whether we wanted to make poverty history at Gleneagles, we would all say yes. But making poverty history will not be achieved by one Prime Minister, one country or any one G8 member. Making poverty history will only be achieved collectively at Gleneagles, and during the next 40 days the Government have to ensure that Ministers in the US, Germany and Japan are also metaphorically clicking their fingers.

During the next 40 days, the Prime Minister will set off on what has been termed a global mission for Africa, which I understand will be starting tomorrow with a trip to Rome for talks with the Italian Prime Minister; then he will see President Putin, President Bush in June, and will finish by visiting President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder. Heading the topics to be discussed is the Chancellor of the Exchequer's project for the international finance facility, in which he has correctly and wisely invested so much political credit.

The IFF is a good idea and, importantly, it is probably the best idea on the table. It has the biggest chance of raising the missing $50 billion that is needed to ensure that the millennium goals become a reality. That sum was identified as necessary several years ago by the Zedillo report, but little progress has been made collectively on that, including on the allocation of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product to overseas development. There are concerns among some NGOs about the IFF—on the payback period, the level of aid after 2015 and the governance structures—and for some the issues are more important than the front-loading benefit of the international finance facility. However, all hon. Members probably see that if we do not get that front-loading, we will never get the momentum that will ensure that the millennium goals are achieved.

Therefore, the Prime Minister's breakneck tour of G8 leaders is primarily to get some breakthrough on the Chancellor's IFF initiative. Much of the focus for attention has been on the United States. Ever since that speech to the Federal Reserve, the United States Administration's response to the IFF has not moved much beyond one Treasury Under-Secretary's statement that:

The frustration is that we do not see the United States coming on board as a team player. If anything, that view is becoming more entrenched. There will be progress at the G8 summit only if there is progress on the volumes of aid—and there will be progress on that only if the United States is on board. Sadly, it is apparent that the United States is resistant to calls for general increases in aid.

From Senators to Members of Congress, there seems to be deep suspicion in Washington of what it sees as simply throwing money at developing countries without any accompanying strict controls on where it is spent. Washington, as we know from the millennium challenge
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account, likes aid to be ring-fenced and likes to say that it is for an AIDS project, or an education project. The Bush presidency, which in fairness has been far more supportive of Africa than many had anticipated, has its own pet projects that, sadly, do not include the IFF. There will be progress on the G8 communiqué, but without the United States the IFF looks increasingly unlikely to be part of that.

I suspect that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have been harbouring greater hopes for the IFF with their European neighbours  and it looks like European Union countries will back it. President Chirac seems to be firmly behind the IFF, and within the European Union it is mostly Scandinavian countries—the ones that already meet the 0.7 per cent.—that clearly back the plan. However, we need to be confident that Italy and Germany will also support the IFF.

I hope that the movement towards 0.7 per cent. that we have seen in the European Union this week—although that figure by 2030, 2040 or 2015 will not exactly help us to meet the millennium development goals—will mean that the United States will feel more pressure to back measures at the G8, because it will see that the EU is at least united on this issue and determined to move things forward.

Given this background, one of the most important meetings will not include the Prime Minister: the meeting of the G8 Finance Ministers on 10 and 11 June. Also, European Union Finance Ministers are due to meet on 7 June to discuss the idea of a voluntary levy on air travel as a way of financing development aid. The fuel tax proposal was first floated by the French and is supported by the Germans. It would help fund another IFF, the international finance facility for immunisation, which will work by issuing bonds to raise cash to buy vaccines. That mini-IFF could be seen as a pilot for the Chancellor's project and the IFF proper. Mid-June will therefore be crucial. If EU Finance Ministers do not agree to that mini-IFF, it is unlikely that, three days later, the G8 Finance Ministers will start agreeing the IFF proper.

No doubt the Chancellor remains hopeful that the Europeans will agree their own plans to sell bonds in order to send cheap drugs to poor countries. No doubt he remains hopeful that before Gleneagles he and other Finance Ministers will agree on such important issues as relief on multilateral debts, reflecting the UK's own bilateral schemes with certain African countries. There might even be some movement on gold sales.

It is even possible that the prospects for the IFF may have been further reduced by the EU's announcement of aid levels this week. The EU's commitment to doubling its aid package, with at least half going to African countries, is of course a major breakthrough; it means an extra £14 billion every year within just five years. It means the wealthiest 15 EU countries spending at least 0.5 per cent. of national income on overseas aid, with the UK and France reaching 0.7 per cent. by 2013. That is extremely good news, but it may also mean that there is less income at the disposal of EU leaders and Finance Ministers to commit to financing other key measures. It is, after all, a commitment by the EU. We are talking not about the key measures at Gleneagles, but the millennium review summit itself. The commitment was
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not mentioned by any EU leader or by any newspaper outside the UK in association with the G8, offering little momentum on prospects for the G8.

What are the other key recommendations of the 900-page report by the Commission for Africa? I expect 90 per cent. of the commission's comprehensive and commendable report to be taken to the G8 summit. Several key recommendations deserve strong support, but the challenge comes from the fact that not all of the recommendations will work well for all G8 members. The UK Government clearly need different strategies for each of the other seven countries. In particular, they need a strategy for the United States.

There is an undeniable moral authority around children, and half the continent of Africa is populated by children. Poverty in Africa will not be broken unless there is a fundamental investment in health and education for Africa's children. A message about investment in children therefore works well in the United States. There was a breakthrough on HIV/AIDS in the United States when it took on board the fact of mother to child transmission. The message is one of 1 million extra doctors and nurses by 2015 and of $5 billion extra over the next decade for colleges and universities.

Doubtless, we will need a different message for Japan, Italy and Germany; we need different strategies for the other seven countries of the G8 if there is to be success at Gleneagles. But at the end of the day I suspect that whether Gleneagles is a success will depend on how far the Prime Minister pushes his views, as opposed to accepting some minimal compromise on US terms to avoid an open split at the summit.

Any split at Gleneagles will make progress at the millennium summit review this September almost impossible. The Sachs report, on which the millennium summit review will be based, presents big ideas for making poverty history. To make that big idea a reality there must be a big tent, with the G8 leaders backing the report with further funds. Perhaps it would be possible for the UK Government to resurrect the IFF as a UN project in New York if it frustratingly fails to meet approval at the G8.

Gleneagles cannot be allowed to fail. Clearly the G8 communiqué must be more ambitious than "first do no harm". With an agenda of summits at New York and then Hong Kong, straining relations is exactly what the Prime Minister cannot afford to do, yet Africa cannot afford to wait any longer. Gleneagles will be not just about clicking fingers but about crossing them. Over the next 40 days, we in this House have to give some thought to what we can do to ensure that our colleagues in the United States and elsewhere in the world recognise the considerable importance that we attach to these various summits. It is pointless us simply having discussions and debates in Westminster Hall and the main Chamber unless we can carry parliamentarians across the world with us.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Edward O'Hara (in the Chair): Order. We are now in the last hour. If the Minister is to reply, he will need about 10 minutes at the end, so I should be grateful if Members would bear that in mind when making their contributions.
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4.40 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. O'Hara. How much time do you judge that we should each have?

Mr. Edward O'Hara (in the Chair): I shall leave hon. Members to use their discretion as to how they use the time, bearing it in mind that three hon. Members wish to contribute.

Jeremy Corbyn : Now we know the sum. Thank you, Mr. O'Hara. I shall be brief, because I think everybody ought to be able to speak. That makes for a better debate.

I welcome this debate, as well as the principle behind the millennium goals and what they are trying to achieve, but we must recognise that they are not being achieved and are unlikely to be achieved unless there are massive changes in attitudes at Gleneagles, the UN review and the World Trade Organisation. I hope that we will not be here in a year or two with more hand wringing, expressions of deep concern and concerts in favour of greater effort and development, while things get no better in many parts of the world. There have to be real step changes in a lot of things.

What has been impressive in the past five to 10 years is the attitude toward world poverty and world development. I do not try to make a partisan point, but I recall a time when elections in this country were dominated by international aid, although "dominated" is perhaps too strong a word. It would be an issue, and we would say that we wanted to increase aid. Candidates from other parties would say that they wanted to abolish it, and the media simply would not report on or discuss it. During the recent general election campaign, when Make Poverty History and world poverty day came up, there was a degree of unanimity in that we agree that the issue has to be addressed, which must be a good thing.

This morning, I was at a meeting of the regional council of my union, Unison, which, like many other organisations, is fully signed up to Make Poverty History. Letters on the subject are being sent out to Unison members, which many of us will receive. One extract from a draft of the letter says:

I am sure we all agree with that, but what is significant is the fact that that is now seen as the norm and part of mainstream politics rather than something separate or different. I strongly recommend that Members listen carefully to lobbyists. I have always been impressed with how the trade justice lobby, the world development lobby and all the other aid and development lobbyists try to influence Members of Parliament, the efficiency with which they organise their lobbying and—I pay tribute to a friend who spoke earlier on this—the very good information that they provide. I spend time meeting the Trade Justice Movement in my constituency, and come away from meetings having said little and learned a great deal, which is not often the outcome of local meetings.
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Not so long ago, before the election, we had a debate in this Chamber about the Commission for Africa and what would come out of it. I have a lot of time for the commission. When it was set up, I was sceptical about it and thought it was yet another example of a rich, white European country deciding the solution to Africa's problems. I could be called cynical, but that view was shared by many others. I do not go along with every dot and comma of the commission's report any more than anybody else does, but I absolutely go along with the general thrust, which recognises that unless we do something dramatic and serious about improving the living standards of large numbers of people in sub-Saharan Africa, those living standards will not stay as they are, but will get worse. The crisis of southern Africa will get worse and it will go into an abyss of ever-declining living standards and ever-falling life expectancy while we say, "Well, it's nothing to do with us and we cannot do anything about it." Well, it is a great deal to do with us in many ways.

One factor, although other Members may not agree, is that Europe and north America—particularly Europe—have made a great deal of money and taken a great deal of wealth out of Africa in the past 300 years. Every major corporation in the City of London, and certainly the older ones, has a history of doing that. Britain did extremely well out of the slave trade. That is an historical fact. The Secretary of State and the commission report readily acknowledge that Africa's development is designed for extractive industries and extractive agriculture, which take products out. Why are there no trans-African highways or railways? Why are there hardly any trans-African air communications? Everything there is designed towards communications with Europe or north America and towards taking things out, rather than developing a sense of African community or inter-African trade. The commission recognised that and we must do something about it.

There are very immediate crises. I have raised issues about many countries in Africa and I raise Angola as a short example, mainly because, for understandable reasons, we could not have a debate on that country earlier this year. Angola has come out of a terrible crisis—30 years, or perhaps longer, of war—and the majority of the population have very low living standards. Possibly half the children are not in school. Illiteracy rates may be stable or rising, but, because of the shortage of teachers, schools, books, equipment and the rest of it, I would be surprised if they were falling. That issue must be addressed.

The Government of Angola readily acknowledge all that, and the IMF is having discussions with them about transparency agreements and future budgetary arrangements before a donors' conference can be held. At some point, I imagine that Angola will have a very good standard of living, given its resources, oil, agriculture and the skills of its population, but at present it has not and an awful lot of people there live very miserable lives. A lot of children are dying very young from wholly preventable conditions.

I would be grateful if the Minister gave us encouragement about the possibility of a donors' conference for Angola, because that country has come out of the most ghastly conflict, which was fuelled by the rest of the world's thirst for oil and diamonds and by the voracious appetite for profits of the world's arms
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industry, which has poured arms in. Angola is not the only country in Africa to have suffered from such problems, but I give it as an example. I would be grateful if the Minister said a couple of words about Angola in his winding-up speech.

The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) asked whether we should be talking about charity and mentioned the idea that charity begins at home. I do not like the use of the word "charity", nor the idea that we are discussing charity. I talk about justice—that is what we should be talking about. Do we wish to live in justice in this world? Yes, justice comes from the provision of increased aid and investment, but crucially—other Members have raised this issue—it also comes from our attitude towards world trade, the amount of goods produced by highly skilled farmers that can be sold at a reasonable price abroad and the amount of indigenous agriculture that can be developed into food processing.

This is a common theme: why does Africa produce lots of cocoa, but no chocolate? Why is there very little food processing in Africa and in some other countries of the world? The WTO round in Mexico collapsed essentially because of the greed of the rich countries, which were not prepared to concede the needs of the poorest. I hope that the next WTO summit will recognise that the unity of the southern countries in demanding justice is a very important step forward.

It is always interesting to discuss such issues with the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), with whom I sometimes agree and sometimes disagree. I raised the question of living standards and poverty around the world in a genuine way. The International Labour Organisation attempts to defend the rights of workers to basic living requirements, basic health and safety, and basic rights of representation. I fully support that, but the organisation is too weak and needs to be made much stronger.

We cannot go on saying that we are going to open up trade barriers with China, or with any other country, and do nothing about the abominable—virtually slave labour—working conditions of the many people who work in factories in those countries producing cheap clothes from which we benefit and from which British companies make a great deal of profit. I would like a much stronger ILO, running in parallel with the WTO. What that might achieve?

The last point that I want to make on that area involves the question whether trade is free or fair. If we allow untrammelled free trade to be imposed on a third-world country, that will result in destruction of the local agriculture and of whatever local industries there are, and in global corporations coming in and doing what they like and disappearing when they like. It must be recognised that it is perfectly reasonable to have trade barriers to allow a developing country to develop industrial infrastructure of the kind that it probably lacks.

John Bercow : For the avoidance of doubt, I say to the hon. Gentleman that I strongly believe that we should not countenance practices by companies in the
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developing world that would be regarded as morally unacceptable in our own country. Slave labour, for example, is just plain wrong. However, I am a little nervous about what the hon. Gentleman might have in mind in terms of uprating wages, for example.

May I also put it to the hon. Gentleman that the problem for those west and central African economies is the dumping of agricultural produce? Does he also accept that although those countries should have a chance to develop their domestic base, they cannot expect to have the freedom to do so indefinitely? Surely there should be some target date after which they should compete in the international marketplace.

Jeremy Corbyn : When the hon. Gentleman spoke earlier, he kindly offered me a job as head of a world regulatory commission, which I am still considering—I need to know a bit more about the terms involved. However, I have some ideas that I might be able to bring to bear on that subject. It is a kind offer, but I will put it on one side.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about food dumping. It is morally wrong that the US Government and the EU Commission pay farmers to over-produce. They then use taxpayers' money to buy the over-production, so it is already a double purchase, and it is then shipped at enormous public cost across the seas to be dumped as maize on African societies. That destroys all the local agriculture and leads to urbanisation and all the problems that go with it. The practice is simply crazy and must be stopped. It is, of course, one of the issues that led to the WTO breakdown.

Ms Dari Taylor : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Jeremy Corbyn : I will, but I am conscious that 13 minutes is the target. We have to keep to targets.

Ms Taylor : I listened carefully to my hon. Friend's statements about the ILO. I, too, have a great deal of respect for that organisation, but I ask him to consider the fact that if what the women involved in SEWA are saying is anything to go by—they are saying it in a very truthful and factual way—the ILO is very male dominated and very resistant to new or different women becoming involved in the organisation. Frankly, it really needs the involvement of such women.

Jeremy Corbyn : I defend the ILO as an institution and as an organisation in relation to what it is there to do, but I also agree with my hon. Friend that there must be many changes in that organisation and that it must recognise the role of women in a much better way.

The last point that I want to make concerns the UN, which has been discussed by virtually everyone in the debate, and the role of NGOs in it. As hon. Members will have heard before, I have attended many sessions of the UN Commission on Human Rights, which can be interesting and informative or irritating and annoying. I understand where the Secretary-General of the UN is coming from when he talks about some kind of panel to deal with human rights issues, but I have two questions: who goes on the panel and who decides who goes on the panel? We like to think that we are perfect where human rights are concerned, but we are not. The United States is not; France is not; many countries are not. Few people are.
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A founding principle of the UN was that it should be open to civil society representatives. Although I acknowledge the problems caused by the operation of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, one of its strong aspects is that Governments who abuse the human rights of their citizens, whose behaviour is unacceptable, who have a death penalty and so on can be challenged by civil society NGOs. It is important to maintain the right of civil society to be represented in the UN and the principle of challenge.

I understand why the hon. Member for Buckingham said that not every country should have the right to be in the commission. Every country should be a member of the commission, but the civil society NGOs that oppose what is being done in their countries should have the right to challenge those countries if necessary. It is necessary to have such a forum. I do not want the whole thing to be hived off to a grand sub-committee in New York that meets in private and does not allow civil society representatives to challenge what various Governments are saying.

This may the subject for another debate, but we must recognise the fact that the UN should have a role in conflict prevention. I opposed the Iraq war, as did many others, but that is not the point I want to make today. There are many other conflicts in the world, with many victims, and in many of them no one is making any effort whatever to try to achieve peace or resolve the conflict. We should not allow our political thinking to be guided by wherever the CNN cameras happen to be.

4.56 pm

Peter Luff (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). Again, and rather to my surprise, I find myself largely in agreement with him. However, for reasons that he will understand, I am glad to say that I did not agree with everything that he said.

Why are we debating a subject that seems to command such wide general consensus? First, I am suspicious of consensus. When politicians all agree, we quickly get a great sloppiness of thinking, and it is important that aspects of the consensus are challenged. I am delighted that some things have been said today that challenge the consensus, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), with whom I find myself in virtually complete agreement. The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 stands as a memorial to consensus.

Secondly, we need to demonstrate parliamentary support in order to influence the Government's priorities. On the whole, the Government are doing a remarkably good job in this area. However, even this Government could do better, and their priorities could be different. It is important to demonstrate our strong support for what is going on, and we need to encourage the Department for International Development and the Chancellor to continue being robust.

Thirdly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) said, we need to send a message not only to the wider international community, but particularly to the United States of America. Still on the subject of consensus, we often talk about what the millennium development goals might achieve for poorer countries, but we need to be more honest about the consequences
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for ourselves. It is not a zero sum game; far from it. The whole world would be better off physically, economically and morally if the millennium development goals were achieved, but within that process there will be winners and losers.

A classic example of that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor)—the growth of Indian call centres. That could mean pain for our constituents, although not yet as call centre employment is still growing in the UK. However, when we lose jobs to India we are witnessing the development of that country, and that country's progress towards the millennium development goals.

Ms Dari Taylor : I am interested in that statement. The hon. Gentleman is right that call centres are growing at an exponential rate in India, but would he not accept that they are paying such good salaries to their employees, especially their engineers, that they are taking people from areas of India where they are desperately needed? Like everyone, they have families to bring up and they want the best for them—and the best income. The downside for me is certainly not the movement of call centres to India, but the fact that they are attracting some of the country's brightest and most capable engineers, who would be more beneficial to their communities if they worked elsewhere.

Peter Luff : I do not intend to have a lengthy debate about Indian call centres—it was a tangential remark—but I disagree with the hon. Lady because staff turnover in call centres is so fast. The Indian economy is now so strong that people typically spend a maximum of two years in a call centre before moving on to somewhere else. That is a win-win situation, as they improve their English, which is India's unique selling proposition in terms of international development. That is another debate, but I do not accept what the hon. Lady said.

On consensus, we all agree that the goals are terribly good and we welcome them. However, I have a slight worry because we have been here so often before—I was involved with the Brandt report in 1980 and I remember the public excitement about the Live Aid concerts. We march people up to the top of the hill, and we march them down again, and sometimes we are seen to fail. I am delighted that the Minister accentuated the positive about particular African countries in his opening remarks, but the fact is that sub-Saharan Africa is in serious trouble in relation to the goals. I worry about the danger of disillusion if we are seen to fail.

I do not accept that the problems are insuperable; quite the opposite. They are immensely soluble given the right international will. It is crucial that we do not let the people down on the goals and that they are not over-ambitious. The Minister cited many of the problems in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Chancellor has also been honest about them in his public statements, detailing how primary education for all will be 115 years late, the halving of poverty 135 years late, and the elimination of avoidable infant deaths 150 years late. That means that it will be one sixth of the way into the new millennium or, given the average lifespan of an African citizen of 30 to 33 years, four to five generations of Africans, before the goals are achieved in sub-Saharan Africa. That is a matter of great concern.
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The next question, which relates to my point about how there is sometimes pain in achieving such goals, is whether the European Union and the United States of America are genuinely willing to do what is necessary to fulfil the goals. Recently, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham highlighted the subsidy to US cotton farmers, and he was right to do so—it totals some $3 billion a year. Will the Americans make progress on eliminating those subsidies? They must do, because otherwise the consequences will be devastating.

Is there also a willingness for lobby groups to accept the important role of the private sector? That has been a feature of today's debate. The Tanzanian water example has obviously been a great concern, but if we consider the work done by the growing sustainable business scheme of the United Nations Development Programme, we can see exactly what good work can be done by the private sector in the right conditions, properly controlled and to universal acclaim. That is tremendously important. As a special adviser to the UNDP, Richard Sandbrook said about the important subject of water:

This is a matter of using those skills in the right way.

Do we have a genuine willingness to accept and respect local cultural traditions? We often talk about developing countries owning their poverty reduction programmes, but sometimes that means some difficult choices, particularly in relation to indigenous peoples. There is a real risk of cultural imperialism by the west, especially on animal rights issues. When we restrict the ability to hunt species that are not in danger, what do we do to indigenous peoples? There is also a danger of cultural imperialism in labour laws, which is what worries me about the comments of the hon. Member for Islington, North. There is a risk of imposing our idea of acceptable conditions on developing countries. I would qualify what my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham said, and my test would be to ask "Is what we are doing morally acceptable in those countries?" We should be reluctant to impose our standards, which could just be a barrier to trade, drive up wages and destroy the competitive advantage that those developing countries enjoy. It is a difficult choice.

This is about priorities, which is why the debate is so important in helping the Government to argue the case powerfully at the various summits that we will have this year. A recent report on UN reform by the Secretary-General said that development

That is an obvious point, but worth quoting: in significant part, development is about reducing terrorism.
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I thought that the working assumption is that the world needs to find an extra $50 billion in development aid, although the Minister gave the figure as $100 billion in his speech. I think that the World Bank quote is between $40 billion and $70 billion. It is not a huge amount of money, whoever is right. However, the aid flows to Africa fell between 2002 and 2003. Coupled with the war in Afghanistan, the Iraq war—I admit that I supported it—has cost the United States of America some $225 billion, and rising. If money can be found for such things, perhaps rightly, it must also be found to achieve the millennium development goals.

More controversially, perhaps, I read that we are about to be charged £93 each for an identity card—£372 for a family of four. I would rather make that contribution to Water Aid; that would do more to make my family and this country safer than would an identity card scheme.

John Bercow : Does my hon. Friend agree that the force of his argument is underlined by the fact that the United Nations first committed to the 0.7 per cent. target in 1970, and that in the intervening 35 years the increase in real disposable income of the citizens of member states has massively increased, beyond the increase in the contributions that Governments make to the poorest countries in the world?

Peter Luff : My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point, with which I entirely agree, and draws me rather faster than I anticipated to my next and last set of remarks, about the international community. The USA gives roughly a quarter of all official development aid in the world. That amounts to 0.16 per cent. of the GDP of that immensely rich country. I believe that, as part of this week's agreement, the new accession countries to the EU have agreed to give 0.17 per cent. of their GDP. That is only marginally more in percentage terms, but what a brave and courageous thing it is for those countries, which are still in need of structural funds from the EU, to make that commitment. I hope that the USA will consider its policies.

Let me make a practical suggestion. We have rightly talked a lot about trade. If the USA were to abandon its cotton subsidies and to give the money, instead, to the global fund to fight HIV/AIDS, which, coincidentally, needs to be replenished by roughly the same amount, the world would have a double whammy of benefit. The trade-distorting subsidies, which make life miserable for so many cotton farmers in the developing world, would go and we would be able to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria much more effectively. Perhaps the Prime Minister could take that idea with him to Washington.

Many things have been said about strengthening African peacekeeping. My hon. Friend was right to question the use of the word peacekeeping in this context, but it is tremendously important. The one thing of which I am most ashamed in my 13 years in this place is that I did not take a more active stand on the events in Rwanda when they were unfolding. Now it is happening again, in Sudan, and it shames me that we can be so complacent.

On corruption, I remind everybody that it takes two to be corrupt. It is not said so often these days, but I heard it from some candidates during the election
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campaign, that we do not help those in the third world because they are corrupt. That is an appalling thing to say, but we should not forget that it takes two to tango. I am intrigued to know what information my hon. Friend has to share with the Minister. He is right about the extractive industries transparency initiative and the publish what you pay initiative. Those are good, but they are only voluntary schemes; they have no mandatory status, I understand. If they are to be really effective, those transparency initiatives should be mandatory. The G8 summit in July could agree that, and I would welcome it.

Together with climate change, this is the central issue that faces the international community. Sometimes the debate is conducted in simple slogans by pressure groups that might not understand the complexities. Sometimes the experts get hold of it and make what ought to be simple tremendously opaque, difficult to understand and unnecessarily complex. That is often used as an excuse for delay. Politicians, as we have seen today in this very good debate, must straddle that gap and lead this vital debate. They must make sure that the whole international community—not just British people—remains absolutely engaged with the target of meeting the millennium development goals.

5.9 pm

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): It is a great pleasure to wind up this debate on behalf of the Back Benches. Let me start by welcoming my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) to his role on the Front Bench. He will find, as I did when I began to take an interest, that not only is the subject absolutely engrossing, but in this House a number of remarkable colleagues understand it very well, have spent a lot of time on it, and speak on it with depth and clarity. Therefore, a debate is always well worth listening to. I am sure that he will enjoy his role, as will the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George).

I want to make an observation, a couple of provocative points and a plea. First, the observation is that, as every other speaker has said, few political issues in this country during the past 20 years have grown as much as international development in terms of the public's understanding, the pressure that they put on politicians and our perception of the issues. We have not been alone and the combination of millennium development goals and the Monterrey consensus has created, for the first time, a powerful global compact for development with, at last, a mutual interest between the developed and the developing world. Instead of development being foisted on some countries, there is a mutual compact. There has been a sea change and, as the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) said, international development has moved a long way in one generation from charity to the proper realm of justice, and rightly so.

Secondly, one reason why long-term millennium development goals are destined to succeed, even if not within the time scale set out, is the greater aspiration for a better measurement system and accountability both in developing countries and in developed nations to ensure that things work, not only at Government level but at the grass roots. I shall refer to that later, but the two changes are significant.
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Thirdly, progress should not be underestimated. Global poverty has declined over the past 20 or 30 years and the world is indebted to the extraordinary changes in China, the far east and east Asia, but sub-Saharan Africa has, tragically, been left behind. We have a renewed commitment to improve the position there. However, the progress and the reasons for it should interest us as we consider where to go next.

I turn to my contentious points. We welcome the public's remarkable engagement with the topic and I sympathise with the comments made by the hon. Member for St. Ives and the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) because there is an element of truth in what they said. We know that in our constituencies a growing number of people are interested in and care about the matter and are engaged in a remarkable way. However, if we are honest, we also know that the matters that move people to vote at general elections do not yet include the cause with which we are engaged today. That is the truth, so we must spread the message more widely. We have a role to play in that, as do the remarkable campaigners who have driven the message. The campaigners have a great responsibility because their word on the subject is accepted more easily than anything we say. If a celebrity or an NGO says something about trade justice they are listened to and their words are accepted. If the Government or Opposition politicians say something, people think that they have a vested interest. Accordingly, NGOs and campaigning organisations must be scrupulous in the way they handle the matter and tell people about the difficulties with which we know that it is bedevilled. I am raising two.

First, trade justice, capitalism, market forces and the like are not easy subjects to discuss. The trade justice movement encompasses those who would like to return to a Marxist system of economics and distribution as well as those who appreciate that those days have gone. An interesting debate in The Times recently was stimulated by Stephen Pollard's article on 23 May. The responses in The Times today take us in a direction that we would like to go. The truth is that the extremes of the argument generate far more heat than light. The matter is complex and is not just about free trade or fair trade. Finding a pathway through the argument is important and will involve compromise. If business is made out to be the enemy, none of us will be served very well. It is patently true that the changes in the east have been driven by market forces, an understanding of the world markets and an ability to engender growth and deliver people from poverty.

Equally well, we know that the rapacious nature of capitalism can bring untold harm in its wake. However, those involved in educating the public must be honest. They have a responsibility to ensure that people, particularly youngsters, are not given the sense that every business involvement in the developing world is somehow at our advantage and at the developing world's disadvantage. I, too, have been taken with some of the examples that the UN has used in its business development organisations to highlight what should be done.

I should like to quote from a book by Tony Campolo, who is that rare thing—a left-of-centre evangelist in the United States, and thus a brave man who has endured
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many difficulties. He gives the example of the work of Gulf and Western and Charles Bluhdorn in the Dominican Republic from the 1970s onwards:

There are other examples of where business can work with the grain of people's just and moral demands. We must ensure that people are aware of that.

The second difficulty picks up on what my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) said. It relates to governance and its importance in dealing with some of the problems that we face. Those who campaign should pay proper attention to it. Sometimes, we think of governance as a top-down process and imagine that the remedy to problems is to approach Governments and say, "You must do this and work from the top down, to make practices more open." However, that is not always what needs to be done.

I have picked up a fascinating example from Uganda involving funds going to local schools. A report quoted in the compendium "Global Crises, Global Solutions", with which a number of us are familiar, says that the problem in that case was that for every dollar of central Government funds only 20 cents made it to the schools. However, the response was not to tell the Government in Uganda to do things differently, but to expand the knowledge of parents and teachers in the school areas, letting them know how much money was coming through and charging them with the responsibility of ensuring that the schools were accountable for how much was delivered. Governance and accountability did not come from the top down, but came from the bottom up. That is an example of a remarkable success in changing attitudes and moving things along. It is important that such examples are given proper weight when considering the changes that need to be made as we drive towards achieving the millennium goals.

My last point is to reiterate what I said to the Secretary of State yesterday about World Vision's work with orphans and vulnerable children in Africa, in looking at the commitments that have been made to those children but which are not yet being met. There is an urgent need to look hard at research into children's formulas for antiretroviral treatment. The absence of that is causing considerable concern. If developed nations put a lot a time and effort into that, it would make a real difference. If the Minister could go back with that particular plea in relation to meeting the health targets, I would be grateful. It has been a pleasure to listen to the terrific contributions made in this debate.
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5.20 pm

Mr. Gareth Thomas : With your leave, Mr. O'Hara, and that of the House, I will try to respond to many of the specific points that were made in an excellent debate with many provocative and passionate speeches from all sides. I pay tribute to the contribution made by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), as it was his first speech in a debate on the subject. He gave notice that he could not be here for the wind-ups, and I am grateful to him for that.

I take in specifically the last point made by the hon. Member for (Alistair Burt), but I also agree particularly with the first of his provocative points about the need for NGOs active in the debate to be considered in their comments and to be careful about their interventions. I am thinking in particular about one report that has just come out and one that is about to. The search for quick headlines will not do our collective cause any good.

I want to respond to some of the points made by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds). Are we on track to meet the target of 0.47 per cent. by 2008? Yes, we are, which will leave us on track to achieve our goal of 0.7 per cent. by 2013. We want to try to achieve that goal more quickly and our route to that is to establish the international finance facility. As other hon. Members have recognised, we are making the case to others in the international community for support to enable us to do that.

The hon. Gentleman also made the case for more aid to NGOs. I am sure that he will recognise the fact that the Government have made a 40 per cent. increase in funding to small and medium-sized NGOs from this year. We also increased the funding for the bigger NGOs with which we work. We have an ongoing relationship with many NGOs, particularly those that we work with when a humanitarian crisis breaks out. We want to continue to develop and strengthen that relationship. A number of initiatives are under way to strengthen our relationship with those NGOs that perhaps have not had regular contact with DFID offices or access to DFID funding streams in the past.

In the end we have to recognise that, although NGOs can make an important contribution, we have to strengthen Government systems. If we want to see universal access to good health care and good schooling, we have to strengthen the governance at the heart of that. That is why the bulk of our aid will continue to be directed through Government mechanisms; we have confidence in the strength of those mechanisms or Governments' willingness to strengthen them.

As I have said on previous occasions, Zimbabwe and Burma stand out as examples of where we cannot put money through Government mechanisms and have to continue to work through NGOs and through UN organisations. If the governance situation were to change, we would undoubtedly be able to offer more effective support, as we do in other countries. The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness also asked whether we should not do more to promote good governance. We are already doing a considerable amount, but I accept that we need to do more. One of the reasons why the millennium review summit is so important is that we believe that it will help to strengthen the international architecture of government; the Peacebuilding
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Commission is just one powerful example of how that architecture will improve. We continue to provide support to the many regional international institutions around the world and it is not least our priority to increase the capacity of the African Union.

The hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) referred to the donor conference initiated by the African Union. I am sure that he recognises that we were one of the first to give support to the AU mission in Sudan. It is encouraging that the joint EU-NATO-UN mission in early May went to look at some of the difficulties with the AU mission in Darfur. The donor conference has produced a result—more cash to expand the effectiveness of the process. I welcome, too, the initial announcements that have been made about the additional cash that has been provided.

We also need to do more to strengthen Governments at national level in developing countries. One of the roles that the UN and donor Governments such as ourselves can play is in promoting and supporting elections. One thinks of Afghanistan, where the UN and donor countries such as Britain have played a key role in helping to fund and organise elections. Of course, we need to continue to do more to promote action in tackling corruption. We already provide support to anti-corruption commissions, to strengthen justice systems, to improve security sector operations and to get effective police and military operations in-country, so that there is good law and order. That is crucial to creating the stability that is needed for development to take place.

I share the view that fairer trading arrangements have the biggest potential in terms of development and lifting people out of poverty. Free trade per se is not needed; fairer trading arrangements are required. We need the sequenced opening of markets and the sequenced lowering of tariffs by developing countries. We need to recognise that we, as developed nations, have a huge responsibility to lift trade barriers that we impose.

We want European partnership agreements to be as development-friendly as possible. We are talking to other states in the European Union about our position and our beliefs regarding how we achieve that goal. I know from conversations that I have had with those leading the negotiations involving some of the regional groupings in EPAs that they welcome the stance that we have taken, they are pleased with the way negotiations are proceeding and they do not currently want to look at alternatives to EPAs.
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Hon. Members have talked about the need for aid to be made more effective. That could be done by persuading all donors to untie their aid. World Bank estimates alone suggest that aid would become 25 per cent. more effective if every donor's assistance was untied. Our aid is untied, and the European Union has taken action to ensure that its aid is untied, but others could do more.

We also want aid to be more predictable, with donors committing for a much longer period. Such aid needs to be in support of national development plans and developing countries' priorities, and channelled through national systems. We are demonstrating good practice with the 10-year memorandum of understanding that we have signed with the Government of Sierra Leone. It sets out our commitments to that country over a longer period.

My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) made a telling contribution in reminding us to concentrate on the issues involving gender at the millennium review summit. On maternal mortality, infant mortality and the AIDS epidemic, we must tackle the particular disadvantages that women face if we are to achieve more progress in meeting the millennium development goals. I cite to her the girls' education strategy paper that we published in January and our determination to put £1.4 billion over the next three years into promoting good education. That is one example of the commitment that this Government are putting behind the goals.

I have made it clear that we want to see a greater debate about sexual and reproductive health rights. We will do more on the needs of orphans and vulnerable children. I have heard the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) about capacity and the potential role of small NGOs and the one made by the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire about antiretroviral therapy. I will write to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) about Angola and the International Labour Organisation.

I recognise the point made by the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) about Sudan and I hope that the donor conference that took place today offers him some reassurance. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North both made telling points about the human rights machinery —

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