Dr. Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast, South) (SDLP): Will my right hon. Friend comment on the situation that is evolving as the European Union and its institutions try to generate a new relevance to the lives of ordinary people throughout Europe? Will the British presidency suggest that they try to focus on intervention in some of the real problems that exist, such as the difficulties in the insurance industry in which market failure, lack of competition and conflicting regulations have caused a crisis for small business, workers, home owners and even charities. Such problems are especially acute in peripheral areas such as Northern Ireland, which has suffered from a collapse of the insurance industry, so it is important that something is done about that.
Mr. Straw: I accept my hon. Friend's point entirely. In paragraph 28 on page 10 of the White Paper, we comment on the proposals to improve the operation of financial services across Europe, which must mean opening up a proper common market for insurance.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I agree with everything that my right hon. Friend has said about enlargement, but given that there appears to be little doubt that a big reason for the no vote in the referendums was hostility to not only future enlargement, but the most recent enlargement, does the Union not need to do some serious thinking about its enlargement strategy? Surely there is a case for developing mechanisms to allow possible applicants to enter into closer relationships with the Union so that they can enjoy some of its benefits pending what would undoubtedly be a lengthy transition period in many cases.
Mr. Straw: All accession states have a transitional position of associate partnership, which will continue. It would be a profound error, and not remotely in the interests of Europe as a whole or the United Kingdom, to close the door on the prospect of membership to Turkey or the Balkan states. Public opinion about accession varies throughout Europe, but concern in countries in which there is hostility to the accession of countries such as Turkey would be greatly eased if the citizens of those countries saw a more successful European Union than they do at present, especially with regard to its economic progress. Enlargement was in many ways a surrogate for discontent about the lack of economic progress in the existing E15 member states.
The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): I am sure that the whole House will welcome the opportunity in the week before the G8 summit to discuss the great moral and practical challenge that our generation faces: eradicating poverty in Africa. I cannot not recall a time when poverty in Africa, its causes and what we can do about it were the subject of so much debate and public attention. The Make Poverty History campaign and its many supporters, and many hon. Members on both sides of the House, including members of the International Development Committee, the all-party group on Africa and the other all-party groups, deserve our heartfelt thanks for achieving that.
There is growing recognition that it is both our moral duty to help to change the condition of humankind, and in our self-interest to do so in an interdependent world. Many people will be in Edinburgh or at one of the Live 8 concerts this weekend because they want the G8 to act and believe that it is possible to do something. That is a message of hope, and it is certainly the best defence against cynicism, because if cynicism were ever to take hold in the fight against global poverty, we would be lost. It should also encourage us in our task. I wish to speak today about what needs to be done.
The facts about poverty in Africa are a reproach to every single one of us. Some 315 million people in sub-Saharan Africanearly half the populationlive on less than a dollar a day. Some 40 million of its children are not today where they should bein school. Some 250 million Africans do not have safe water to drink or proper sanitation and 6 million men, women and children died last year of entirely treatable diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. We can no longer claim that we do not know that that is happening. We understand what needs to be done, and there has never been a better time to act, because Africa itself is making progress and changing.
The establishment of the African Union, with its principle of non-indifference, has seen interventions in Darfur, Togo and the Central African Republic which frankly would have been unthinkable only a decade ago. There are fewer conflicts. Since 1999, peace agreements have brought to an end 10 of Africa's major wars. More leaders are being democratically elected. Governance is improving. Thanks to the New Partnership for Africa's Development, since 2003 23 African countries have agreed to have their economic, political, social and corporate governance critically reviewed through the Africa peer review mechanism. Last week, the first assessments on Ghana and Rwanda were discussed by African Heads of State. The leaders of those two countries will respond to the recommendations in the summer. I will place copies of the reports in the Library of the House as soon as they are available. We should commend Presidents Kufuor and Kagame for their openness and readiness to acknowledge the need for change.
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We are also seeing action to combat corruption, most recently in Zambia and South Africa, and in Nigeria, where President Obasanjo is making a significant break with the past. More than $700 million of corrupt assets have been seized. Three Ministers and three judges have been sacked. One judge has been suspended. The Senate President has been forced to resign, and the inspector general of police has been arrested.
I am sure that the House will welcome the steps that are taking place in Nigeriaa country that suffered so grievously over the past generation, from corruption, bad governance and military dictatorship. I am also sure that the House will welcome the news of an agreement to deal with Nigeria's debt which was reached by the Paris Club yesterday. That is proof that reform brings benefits. Now is the time for all of us to support the reformers in Africa.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman knows that I have a high respect for him, and we have discussed the issues once or twice before. When he says that there is moral challenge to us all, I agree with him. When he says that poverty reproaches each one of us, I agree with him. However, surely more than anyone it reproaches the other rulers who are not making progressthose in Zimbawe, who are not criticised by Mbeki in South Africa, and those across the continent of Africa, where next to no progress is being made, including, I regret to say, Ethiopia, whose Prime Minister was a member of the Commission for Africa.
Hilary Benn: I accept the hon. Gentleman's point and I shall come to those two countries directly because if we are going to do the right things to help, we have to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the condition of Africa.
We are also seeing economic progress. Average GDP growth in 2004 was the highest in eight years. Mozambique has cut poverty by a third in the past 15 years and has doubled the number of children in school. Uganda has cut poverty by half and reduced the incidence of HIV by two thirds. We all know, however, that progress is not seen everywhere across Africa. On current trends, the millennium development goals will not be reached for another 100, or in some cases 150, years. The people who need the progress that the goals represent will be dead by then. They cannot wait that long.
Africa suffers from a lack of capacity. Many countries simply do not have enough money to pay the salaries of doctors, nurses and teachers, or to buy the drugs that are needed to fight the AIDS pandemic that is killing so many people2.5 million Africans died last year of AIDSand threatens economic development. It is not just a human tragedy, but potentially an economic catastrophe.
Ethiopia, which has achieved great success in reducing poverty and getting more children into school, is involved in a terrible struggle, with loss of life and arrests as a result of its election process. The fact that there is no result to the Ethiopian elections should concern us all. Governments in Sudan and Zimbabwe have shown a shameful contempt for human rights, in one case killing their own citizens and in the other bulldozing families out of their homes. I applaud what
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the African Union has done in Sudan, and I very much regret its silence on Zimbabwe. I hope that that will change.