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Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Hilary Benn: If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall conclude. Many Members want to speak, and I want to allow as much time as possible for them to do so.

People have demonstrated at some G8 summits because they do not want the G8 and do not like what it stands for—they want it to get out of town. We should draw enormous comfort from the fact that that is not the case this time. People hope that politics will demonstrate its capacity to change things for the better. It is, after all, how we as a country transformed ourselves over the past 400 or 500 years. Life expectancy used to be short, few people went to school, we did not have a health service and there was crushing, grinding poverty. If our forebears and ancestors came back, they would be astonished by the society that we have built for ourselves through a process of political, social and economic development. The people of Africa want exactly the same opportunity for themselves and their families so that they can build a better future and pass it on to the next generation. Our obligation is to do all that we have in our power to help them to bring about that better future.

1.31 pm

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): A number of factors converge to focus the eyes of the world on Gleneagles next week. Britain holds the presidencies of the G8 and the European Union, we will have a strong voice at the World Trade Organisation talks in December and it is the 20th anniversary of Live Aid. Thanks to a well organised and positive campaign, the public's desire to make poverty history has become an almost tangible force in the run-up to next week's summit. That presents the leaders of the eight most powerful nations with a great opportunity but also with a great challenge.

Next week in Edinburgh, it is not only the heads of African Government who will be held to account but the leaders of the richest, most powerful countries in the west, as the public are keen to see their spirit of compassion and good will reflected in the actions of
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their leaders. They are watching to see that in this year of opportunity politicians live up to the task, so that generosity is matched by the determination to ensure that every penny released for development is spent properly. Good intentions must be translated into effective results on the ground. Next week, the G8 leaders must channel the tremendous good will over the past few months into effective action for the world's poor. If they do not do so, they will fail the 30,000 African children who die unnecessarily every day, and they will fail the people of their own nations who demand real and effective action.

Accountability is the key, and that is what the Opposition will push for. The Conservative party fully welcomes the current political landscape of consensus on development issues. As the Secretary of State knows, we stand foursquare behind him on the Government's push for a comprehensive deal on aid, trade and debt. I am delighted by the emergence of a united British agenda on international development. I pay tribute to my predecessors, including my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), who is in the Chamber today, as they have worked hard to secure that unity of purpose. I am proud to have been appointed to my current post at a time of such opportunity. This is not a party political issue, and we will not seek to oppose for opposition's sake. However, the debate must be more than merely an exchange of pleasantries.

While we commend the spirit of the Government's approach, the Opposition think that there are things missing from it. There is a serious danger that the Government will focus too much on headline figures and inputs, and not enough on ensuring that those inputs translate into concrete improvements in the lives of the poor. That would offer no solution to the people of Africa, and no satisfaction to the people of the G8 nations. On behalf of both those groups, we will hold the Government and their G8 counterparts to account.

Africa is the world's biggest continent. It consists of 51 countries with hugely diverse cultures and histories, where more than 1,000 languages are spoken. As the Secretary of State has just said, we should be wary of excessive generalisation when talking about Africa, but the countries of sub-Saharan Africa are, broadly speaking, united in poverty, which is acute, prolonged and worsening. Africa is the only continent in the world to have grown poorer in the last generation. People around the world, particularly in India and China, are creating wealth and gradually escaping from poverty. Africa's share of world trade, however, has halved. Poverty is increasing and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham has said, life expectancy is falling.

Today, like yesterday and tomorrow, 8,000 people in Africa will die from HIV/AIDS, 7,000 people will die of hunger, and 6,000 will die from water-borne diseases—90 per cent. of malaria cases are in sub-Saharan Africa. At least 25 million people are HIV-positive, and 12 million children have lost one or both of their parents to AIDS—12 million is more than the number of children in Britain. A total of 100 million children are missing out on school. Their school fees—I learned in Uganda that they are often less than £5 a term—are too expensive for their parents to meet. Denied an
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education, they are condemned at birth to a life of failure, their intellectual growth stunted just as the growth of their nation is stunted by poverty, and their talent is wasted forever.

Africa's children are like our children—they laugh the same, play the same, and suffer the same. In South Africa, people spend more on burying their dead than they do on food and clothing for their families. In the global village, we cannot ignore such suffering. In the face of that situation, it is truly appropriate that the question that will dominate the G8 meeting next week is what politicians in rich countries should do to reduce poverty and promote development in poor countries. For the millions of AIDS orphans and for all those children not in school there is no more important question. There are, however, no easy answers. Africa needs much more than good intentions. It needs co-ordinated, focused and effective assistance from the developed world and good policy from its national governments—a partnership, as the Secretary of State said.

I deliberately stress the need for good policy from African Governments. Bad Governments pursuing bad policies are the major reason why Africa is poorer today than it was 50 years ago. If the G8 countries are serious about helping Africa, they must face that unpleasant fact, and use their diplomatic and financial influence to create incentives for African governments to govern well. They must be unflinching in their condemnation of those Governments who perpetuate poverty and wage war on their own people. The title of our debate is "Helping Africa to fight poverty", and ultimately it is the responsibility of African governments and the African people to fight poverty.

Our actions should be enabling. They may help to create the necessary conditions for progress in Africa, but they are not sufficient in themselves. Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General has said that

We must not use bad governance as an excuse to turn our back on those 12 million AIDS orphans. There is much that the G8 leaders can, and must, do to assist those African governments who are genuinely committed to helping their people escape poverty.

First, we want to see a big increase in the quality and volume of aid. I welcome the consensus in British politics on the UN's 0.7 per cent target. As well as increasing the amount of aid that we deliver, we must secure international agreement to achieve a dramatic improvement in the quality of aid. We should be candid about the record of aid in the past. Some aid has been spectacularly successful. It supported the eradication of smallpox, for example, saving millions of children from a painful death. In Kampala 10 days ago, I saw how British aid is helping to support 140,000 families affected by HIV/AIDS. I met people who are alive today because of British generosity. I visited the Kitovu hospital run by the CAFOD-sponsored Medical Missionaries of Mercy. Everyone in that hospital was working together to save lives with limited resources. I pay tribute to the work of those amazing people at that hospital and to all those who volunteer. They show us what can be achieved.
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I want all our aid to be that effective, yet much aid in the past has been wasted, ending up in Swiss bank accounts or the pockets of arms dealers. Too often, aid has been characterised as a transfer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries. No part of the planet has received more aid and done less with it than Africa. We will secure public support for increased aid only if we take decisive action to prevent that from happening again. The public are sceptical. A poll for The Daily Telegraph has shown that 83 per cent. of people are not confident that money given by the west would be spent wisely. It also shows that 79 per cent. of voters believe that corruption and incompetence are to blame for Africa's problems.

After the summer, when the G8 conference is packed away, our electorates, the people of the developed world, will look to their leaders to ensure that the vast amount of money raised is spent properly. We must outline clearly how the money is to be spent, and we must put in place clear, transparent structures to account for the money. The G8 leaders must be able to monitor precisely where our money goes. I hope the Secretary of State will look carefully at structural ways of ensuring greater transparency and accountability in the way aid moneys are spent. Our taxpayers will demand nothing less.

Our aid should help to support efforts to develop the institutional and legal preconditions for growth and sustainable poverty reduction. It should be used to reward and encourage countries which establish a framework of transparent institutions, which respect the rule of law and human and property rights, and which promote free trade between individuals and between nations. Where we work with Governments, we must expect them to be fully and openly accountable for the funds that they receive. There should be no more second chances for tyrants and no more benefit of the doubt for corrupt dictators.

In badly governed countries, we should distribute aid through the small platoons of motivated, dedicated NGOs which are already doing such good work in the developing world. Such money should be disbursed through the Department for International Development, which is focused on output, rather than through the inefficient European Union.

We face huge challenges and we have only limited resources, so it is vital that we spend our aid where it will do the most good. That means supporting specific, effective, accountable investments in vaccine research and the provision of basis health and education services. We should draw up a priority list and stick to it. The   Copenhagen consensus priorities of tackling HIV/AIDS, malnutrition and malaria are a good place to start.

We need to conduct a rigorous investigation into the merits of direct budget support, as opposed to project aid. Clearly, both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, but the British people will rightly be sceptical about giving their hard-earned money to Governments who are not fully accountable and transparent.

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