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Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I thank my right hon. Friend on behalf of the associate parliamentary group for Sudan for addressing us so shortly after his return from Sudan. It is pleasing to see at one level what is beginning to happen via the AU in Darfur. However, the right hon. Gentleman will know that another tragedy is opening up in the east of the country, around Port Sudan. There has been rebel activity and, as before, the Government are overreacting. Will he talk to the Foreign Secretary to determine whether preventive action is needed now, so that we stop the tragedy of the north-south divide occurring again and ensure that there is not another scar on the face of Africa?

Hilary Benn: I will do that. My hon. Friend takes a close interest in Sudan. The conflict in the east and in Darfur demonstrates that although there is the north-south civil war, which has cost so many lives, in other parts of Sudan people want political participation and the chance to develop. The importance of the comprehensive peace agreement that was negotiated is that it provides the framework on wealth sharing and sharing political power, which offers the hope of finding a solution to the conflicts elsewhere in the country. In the end, it is up to the politicians to stop fighting, to start talking and to find that solution.

Although we rightly deplore what is happening in those countries where progress is not being made, they do not represent the whole of Africa. We cannot allow the actions of some Governments to jeopardise the   future of the entire continent when African Governments elsewhere are increasingly demonstrating their commitment to change and when we can see the difference that aid makes.

The United Kingdom is helping to lead the debate on how aid can best be allocated. In the right circumstances, we should give our aid in a way that allows African Governments to decide how best to use it in line with their priorities to get children into school, to improve health care and to tackle poverty. In many countries, that means budget support. Where that is not possible, however, our aid will support sectoral programmes in health and education. We are also trying to improve predictability of aid—for example, by the 10-year agreements that we have reached with Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. In every case, we assess the risk and put in appropriate safeguards against corruption. We are also working with countries to strengthen and improve their public financial management, because we have to be sure that we can demonstrate that the money reaches the poor.

We know that aid works. In Ghana, 15 years of aid to education has resulted in a 10 per cent. increase in enrolment and an increase from one third to four fifths in the number of primary school graduates who have acquired literacy skills.

Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman talks of aid and includes Zambia as one of the countries that is making progress. The   World Health Organisation predicts that by
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2010 the average age of a Zambian will be 24. Twenty years ago the average age was 60. How can that be progress?

Hilary Benn: The reference to Zambia related to tackling corruption. It has an enormous AIDS problem. One reason why we need more aid, and debt cancellation, for countries like Zambia is so that they have the resources they need to buy the drugs and employ the doctors and the nurses to prevent the catastrophe that the hon. Lady rightly mentions. That is why we need to do more.

In Tanzania, budget support has increased the number of children in primary school from just over 4 million to 7 million in recent years. Nine out of 10 children now go to school. Uganda has used budget support to abolish health-user fees for primary health care. It has recruited an extra 3,000 trained health workers. Immunisation rates for children under five have risen from 40 to 80 per cent.

Aid works. That is why the Commission for Africa called for a doubling of aid from $25 billion to $50 billion by 2010. We know that without it Africa will not meet the millennium development goals. The commission was clear on that. We need that aid to improve infrastructure, to invest in people, education and health, to tackle AIDS and to create conditions for private sector investment. Above all, we need a big push now. The most powerful message for our debate today is that all of Africa's development challenges are linked, and that success will come about only if they are all addressed together.

The UK's contribution has involved leadership, and the Prime Minister's decision to set up the Africa Commission and to make Africa the heart of our G8 presidency. However, we are also giving practical help with a rising aid budget, and we have now set a timetable for achieving the 0.7 per cent. target by 2013. Europe's contribution will be particularly significant. The agreement that EU development Ministers reached just over a month ago will double Europe's development assistance between now and 2010, and will on its own deliver two thirds of the $25 billion a year additional aid to Africa that the Commission for Africa recommends. Canada has announced that it will double its aid to Africa by 2008, and Japan will do so by 2007. President Bush will make an announcement today about further contributions from the United States.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): Will the Secretary of State do his utmost to ensure that the aid from the European Union starts to return to the poorest countries? He will be well aware that the EU's record of delivering aid to those countries is regrettable. It has never been good, but it has got worse in recent years.

Hilary Benn: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The EU aid deal to which I referred represents the commitments of the 15 member states through their bilateral programmes. In addition, there is the European Community's development programme, and
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we and others are fighting to see more of that going to the world's poorest countries. I believe that there is support across the whole House for that.

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): The Secretary of State will have seen in The Times this morning that the International Monetary Fund has produced two reports that question the premise that aid makes a significant contribution to economic growth. What response will he and his Department make to the IMF in that regard?

Hilary Benn: The case for aid is not so much the difference it makes to economic growth but the difference it makes to saving people's lives and to getting children into school. Aid on its own will not deliver the economic growth that Africa requires if the continent is to be transformed. However, we should not let the IMF report dampen our commitment to increasing aid, because we can all see the benefit of so doing.

Mr. David S. Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab): Over the next few weeks, a lot of promises will be made about aid for Africa, and we need to ensure that those promises are kept. We must ensure that the aid that is promised by countries across the world materialises in the years to come. There are too many of examples of that not happening; bold promises have been made, and poor people have lost out because they have not been kept.

Hilary Benn: I could not agree more. The best people to hold to account the Governments who make those commitments are the Parliaments and the electorates of those countries, and the more loudly people express their concern about development and their anger about poverty, the better chance we have of ensuring that those commitments are turned into cash and practical help.

The other big step forward that we have seen is the agreement on debt cancellation, negotiated with such skill by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It potentially involves $55 billion-worth of debt cancellation, so that developing countries—many of which are in Africa—will no longer be faced with the terrible choice between making monthly repayments that they cannot afford and using the money to buy AIDS drugs and to employ the doctors, nurses and teachers who will make a difference to so many people's lives.

Aid and debt relief will help, but, as the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) said, Africa will not meet the millennium development goals without faster economic growth. We want to see African economies and their share of world trade double in the next few years, which means increasing their opportunities to participate in the global trading system, investing in infrastructure and reducing the cost of transport. One of the most striking statistics among the many in the Commission for Africa's report illustrates that, while it costs $1,500 to transport a car from Japan to Abidjan in west Africa, it costs $5,000 to move it on from Abidjan to Addis Ababa. The high cost of transport in Africa is one of the factors that gets in the way of economic growth and development.

Everyone in the Chamber knows that our greatest opportunity to enable Africa to break free from the chains of poverty will be at the World Trade
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Organisation talks in Hong Kong in December. Unless we do everything that needs to be done to allow Africa to trade on fairer terms with the rest of the world, we will deny it the best hope that it has of changing the lives of its people for the better.

My final point is about partnership, because, in the end, there has to be a commitment on both sides. I have spoken about the contribution that the richer world can make, but Africa, too, has a responsibility to provide peace, stability and good governance. One reason why we should have hope is precisely that in recent years Africa has demonstrated through NEPAD and the African Union its determination to live up to that responsibility.

A fortnight ago, I was in Rumbek, in southern Sudan, where one in four children die before they reach five years of age and three quarters of all adults cannot read. I do not think I have ever been to a place that has so little. It has been impoverished, brutalised and traumatised by Africa's longest-running civil war, which has claimed 2.5 million lives. I met a group of villagers who had walked from Khartoum to Rumbek, which had taken more than two months. I particularly remember talking to a young woman by the name of Josefina, who was 19, and her brother Stephen, who was 11. Their mother had abandoned them and they had walked to Rumbek with their fellow villagers. I asked Josefina whether Stephen went to school, and she said he did not. When I asked why, she told me that the only school in Rumbek charged fees, and she had no money to pay them. Only with the peace deal will Rumbek and southern Sudan have the chance of a better future. As part of our obligation, we are providing more than £100 million to Sudan this year, in addition to the support that we are giving to the peace mission in Darfur.

Only through peace and stability will southern Sudan have the chance of a better future. The situation there teaches us that, even with the doubling of aid, the cancellation of debt and the opportunity of fairer trade, if people continue to fight one another, there will be no development or progress. Sudan and other countries remind us of that challenge. That is why we are right to provide support to build African capacity and to undertake more peace support operations across the continent. That is also why we are right to put money into education, so that people like Stephen in southern Sudan can have the chance to go to school. That is why we are right to put in money to meet the financing gap in regard to the fight against HIV and AIDS, and why Britain will be hosting the replenishment conference for the global fund in September.

In the end, this is all about one thing. It is about building capacity, without which Africa will not be able to tap its potential. Its countries need good governance, an independent judiciary, a lively civil society, and civil servants with skills. They need to fight corruption and to create a climate in which people from Africa and beyond will want to invest their money. In the end, capacity is about Governments who are able to deliver, and about people who have an expectation that their Government might be able to do something to improve their lives. I learned that lesson more forcefully than anywhere else on my first visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, when President Kabila told me that the challenge that his country faced was not to restore
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people's faith in the Government but to persuade them, for the very first time in their lives, that there might be something called a Government who had something to offer them. Above all, the future of Africa rightly lies in the hands of its people and their Governments.

There are many hon. Members in the Chamber today, and I look forward to hearing what they have to say. They will know that Africa is as full of potential, creativity, talent and hope as any other continent on the planet, and those qualities are waiting for the opportunity to be set free. We need to see Africa in all its complexity. If people continue to look at it as a continent only of war, pestilence, famine, disease and starvation, we will not see the real Africa underneath that is struggling to come up. In the end, it is the power of the political process in African countries and in the world that offers us the best hope of a better future. What is remarkable about the people who will gather in Scotland this weekend is that they look to the G8 and the political process to change things for the better.

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