Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman educate the House as to who would actually answer that question if it were asked in my local Tesco or Sainsbury's?

Andrew George: There are campaigning non-governmental organisations engaged in a dialogue with the larger supermarkets, and they are raising questions about ethical standards. We want to encourage supermarkets. We are talking about transparency in government, but we should also have transparency in the commercial sector in this country, so that we understand more about the source of our bananas, coffee and other products, so that what we buy does not undermine the benefits of the work being undertaken to eradicate poverty in less developed countries. I hope that the Government will use their good offices to ensure that greater transparency can be facilitated.
30 Jun 2005 : Column 1485

2.21 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to address the House for the first time, in this important debate. I thank not just the Government for this timely debate, but the Secretary of State, not just for his contribution to the debate but for the immense efforts and determined initiative that the Government have shown on this issue—not just in the run-up to the G8 and the creation of the Commission for Africa, but dating right back to the creation of the Department for International Development and the policy reloading that that brought.

I stand here proud to uphold the values of the Social Democratic and Labour party—a party of consistency and persistence, as we have stood for non-violence, democracy and partnership as a better way to a better Ireland; and a party that is solidly social democratic, unashamedly Irish nationalist, but determinedly internationalist.

Of course I am conscious that I am more than an SDLP MP. I stand here democratically honoured to represent the interests of all the people of Foyle—whether they voted for me or for other parties' candidates, and whether they share my political beliefs or hold other views, different from mine but no less legitimate for that.

I also know my duty not just to speak up for my party or stand up for my constituents, but also to look out for the needs and rights of other citizens of this world. So it is in this debate on addressing poverty in Africa that I make my maiden speech. This carries some continuity from my predecessor, John Hume, whose last Prime Minister's question, earlier this year, was on this very same crucial issue.

The shadow Secretary of State mentioned that we are 20 years on from Live Aid—and 20 years ago this month, along with John Hume, I went on to a boat in the port of Derry, in my constituency, and met six stowaways from Ethiopia—refugees. Within days, the Home Office gave three of them refugee status and three exceptional leave to remain. Twenty years on, as we go towards Live8 and we face new African issues, we have to ask what prospects those people would face if they arrived now—just as the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) raised questions about what we are doing with refugees from Zimbabwe now.

This debate will be full of echoes of the challenging things that Bono, among others, has said to us all about Africa. I agree with them all, just as I applauded Bono for hailing John Hume as a hero, and Seamus Mallon as a giant of Irish politics. There might be spin games in Northern Ireland about who won the war and speculation about who will win the peace, but there can be no doubt about who won the argument. With John the architect and Seamus the engineer, the SDLP provided the blueprint and the construct of the Good Friday agreement.

The key precepts of that agreement were first spelled out in a 1972 SDLP paper, "Towards a New Ireland", which was in two parts, one offering the political argument and the other an institutional model. It will surprise no one in the House to hear that John Hume was the primary author of the rationale, but it may surprise Members to hear that a major contributor to
30 Jun 2005 : Column 1486
the model outline was Kadar Asmal—then a law lecturer in Dublin and head of the Irish anti-apartheid movement. Since then, of course, he has been Minister for Water, and more recently Minister for Education, in a democratic South Africa.

In getting his ideals to prevail, John Hume led our community from grievance to governance. In a different context, with hugely different challenges, the African National Congress led their people from grievance to governance. In the debate on Make Poverty History, some people raise questions of governance almost as a dismissive counterpoint to the demand for debt relief, proper aid and fair trade. But there can be no sustainable solution to the governance questions in Africa without radical and durable resolution of Africa's grievances. Wrong as they have been, it is not the bad behaviour or poor performance of some African regimes that created the inequities and iniquities of the world economic order that handicap that continent.

In no way can the challenges facing Northern Ireland be equated with the mass suffering that afflicts so much of Africa. My own constituency of Foyle suffered death and destruction in the troubles, and has endured structural neglect and under-investment for decades. It shows up in the league tables as having the highest unemployment, the worst rates of long-term unemployment and high rates of economic inactivity, and many of its wards are among those with the highest concentrations of multiple deprivation, including child poverty and fuel poverty. I will be returning to those and related issues in future debates, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

But there is another league table that Derry consistently tops—that for popular giving to support development aid and combat poverty in Africa and other developing countries. I believe that that stems from a spirit not just of charity but of solidarity. Derry is more forward-looking and outward-looking than many people know, as is evidenced in the great work of so many schools, Churches and other groups in the Make Poverty History campaign and for other causes.

Derry should not just be defined by the sort of stark indicators that I mentioned earlier, without also being described by its tradition of self-help, its pathfinding partnerships, its cultural offering, its working aspiration to be a "city of learning", and the enterprise shown even against difficult odds. So I know too that although all Africans want us to focus properly on the ills of poverty, disease, hunger, child mortality and lack of education and health services, they also want us to recognise their good endeavours, their initiative, their cultural vibrancy, their talents and their ambitions. They want us to recognise their efforts to grow out of poverty, to invest properly, to foster enterprise and deliver community-based development, to combat disease, to provide safe water, to keep children alive to school age and then to guarantee them a school.

It is when we see both what Africans are offering, as well as what Africans are suffering that we get a fuller sense of the compound injustice of their position. We cannot see corruption in African Governments and be blind to the corruption of an international economic order that locks people in poverty and stunts democracy, while mouthing "private enterprise" and "good governance" as a modern version of "Let them eat cake". We cannot preach property rights while we deny production rights.
30 Jun 2005 : Column 1487

The Make Poverty History campaign has three demands—debt relief, more and better aid, and trade justice. Debt relief is not just about writing off African mistakes. It is about righting a world wrong. Debt relief means allowing Africa to focus more of its own spending on its own potential, its own needs, rather than on liabilities that it should not owe anyone. It will release important margins of African countries' gross national product for investment in vital services such as health and education. It should mean that the benefits of economic growth allow more Africans to make a living, rather than allowing banks and institutions to make a killing.

I welcome the debt relief package for the poorest countries, brokered by the Chancellor with his G8 colleagues. Its value should not be underestimated, nor should it be overestimated. We need to recognise that many poor peoples in regions of hardship will not benefit directly. We also need to realise that funding debt relief from aid budgets can be seen as robbing Peter to pay Peter. More remains to be done. I believe that the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for International Development will try to get more and better, through, for instance, sponsorship of the international finance facility.

The second demand is for aid levels to rise to 0.7 per cent. of GNP. That target was set and promised as long ago as 1970, and has been set again many times by many countries. We now have the solemn commitments of the millennium development goals, which are not just about overall aid levels but about very specific outcomes in education, health, housing, safe water and so forth.

Judged on our record, our promises mean little or nothing. We are hardly in a position to preach to Africa about performance and delivery standards from Government. New promises on aid are overdue, but still under-reliable. Such commitments should be absolute and should do exactly what it says on the tin, with no    more evasions consisting of micro-statistical comparisons with what others are not doing, or attempts to include popular donations to aid agencies. That applies not just to the G8 but to all countries, not least EU countries and particularly—for me—Ireland. I entirely back the case for targeting and tracking increased aid, but that proper priority should not be an excuse for our lack of urgency and diligence in living up to earlier promises.

The third plank is trade justice: allowing people a fair price for what they produce, allowing African countries to add value to what they produce, and allowing them to grow their way out of poverty. It must involve ending the travesty of their having to scale the high dam gates of protection tariffs around us when they struggle to avoid drowning as we flood their markets by dump-pouring goods below world prices.

While there are some critics of the case for debt relief and aid, none of us parliamentarians are being actively lobbied against them. That will not be the case when it comes to some of the issues in the world trade round building up to December. Interests in or near our constituencies will bring us legitimate concerns, as businesses or unions. Organised interests will lobby us on the implications and complications of trade round choices. In that confusion and concern, and after the hype of Gleneagles, we must not be tempted to fall for the Meatloaf standard that "two out of three ain't bad".
30 Jun 2005 : Column 1488
We must not decide that trade justice can wait while we let better aid and debt relief work. Africa needs justice now—not two thirds of justice, but all of it.

2.31 pm

Next Section IndexHome Page