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Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): It is a huge privilege to follow the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). Nearly everyone in the House was delighted when he won a very difficult election in his constituency last month. He is a courageous politician who has had a distinguished career in Northern Ireland, most recently in the Executive and the Assembly. It was typical of him that his speech was not just about the Province, but was an international speech in a significant international debate. He also used the opportunity to point out, rightly, that the city he represents and loves, Derry, is a big city with a big heart, which looks outwards as he did. I hope that he will ably represent his constituency for many years to come.

This has been a significant debate in another respect. In my experience, there have not been many occasions on which we have heard two such fine speeches from the Front Benches. The Secretary of State is respected in all parts of the House for his huge enthusiasm but also for his hardnosed realism, matched with a rare eloquence. We have high hopes that he will continue his good work throughout this Parliament. I hope that the Prime Minister, or his successor, will not be so unwise as to move him in a reshuffle, because we need him in his Department for the entire Parliament.

I am delighted that my hon. and very good Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) is the shadow Secretary of State. He has the eloquence but also the financial expertise to make a large contribution. I think that the two of them will work very closely together.

There are plenty of opportunities in the House for us to have rigorous debates, to play the party political game, to score points and also, perhaps, to thoroughly enjoy ourselves. Increasingly, however, I have noticed that that is a thing of the past in the context of international development, and the speeches we have heard so far have illustrated that very well.

Having said all that, I hope that the Secretary of State will forgive me if I draw attention to areas of concern as well as areas of consensus, as he rightly said that he wanted to listen carefully to the whole debate.

It is taken as read, as hon. Member for Foyle rightly pointed out a few moments ago, that there are many aspects to this debate. It is essential that more funds be made available for Africa—that is agreed—but it is also essential that that money be well spent. The hon. Gentleman was also correct when he said there is no point in trying to create an enterprise culture if the first bricks are not in place. The first bricks have to be education and health, but they also have to include good governance. There also has to be a level playing field.

I have criticised before our American allies and our European partners, who are the two principal culprits. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield rightly criticised the common agricultural policy, which we have to work to change. It is not just overburdening our contribution to the EU and its budget, which is bad enough; what it is really doing is ruining farmers across the third world, but particularly in Africa. We have to
 
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put great pressure on President Bush and on Congress every time that we meet American politicians. We have to point out the harm that their food subsidies are doing to Africa. This American Administration rightly see the problems in Africa. They are being financially very generous, but most of that will be largely wasted if they do not reform their own subsidies.

Most of all, we have to continue to fight against corruption, bad government and abuse of human rights in Africa. The right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke), who is a considerable expert in this field, chided us by saying that Zimbabwe is not Africa. To that degree he is right, and the Secretary of State pointed out the many success stories, but the Secretary of State also rightly pointed out the failures. I hope that the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill will bear with me if I spend most of the remaining few minutes of my speech talking about Zimbabwe, not least because his Government and the Leader of the House have not behaved well in failing to get a Minister to make a statement at the Dispatch Box on Zimbabwe, particularly bearing in mind the outrageous acts of the Mugabe regime, which has demolished so many houses for political purposes and abused human rights. I have no facility to express my concerns other than that which attaches to this debate.

Although the Secretary of State was right to say that wherever possible, our aid should go direct to Governments in Africa—democratically elected, one hopes—who can then choose how best to spend that money, that clearly cannot be so in Zimbabwe. He and I had an exchange on this issue during questions yesterday, and I hope that when the Under-Secretary winds up, he will further confirm that where doubt exists—there is no doubt in Zimbabwe: it is a clear-cut case—and there is fear of corruption and the abuse of human rights, we will concentrate more on the non-governmental organisations and less on giving money to the Government in question. Only when we are satisfied that there is good governance and a lack of corruption can the money go to that Government. That is very important indeed.

It is tragic that we have not intervened—I do not mean militarily—to put greater pressure on Zimbabwe, and that we have allowed Mugabe to abuse his people. We have to ask ourselves why, when action is taken against wrongdoing regimes in the Balkans, the middle east and Afghanistan, it has not been taken in Zimbabwe. It is so condescending to African people to say, "Oh, it's different. We don't want to upset Africa. We have to do things gently." Initially, I accepted that the situation should be dealt with through the African Union, of which I am a big supporter. As the Secretary of State pointed out earlier, the African Union has done some good, particularly in the Sudan, the Congo and the Central African Republic. In Zimbabwe, however, its record has been disgraceful—as has, I am afraid, the record of President Mbeki. I am great supporter of what has happened in South Africa: the transformation since apartheid has been quite remarkable and the reconciliation achieved has been deeply significant. Yet there remains a complete blind spot over Zimbabwe. When we see the President of Tanzania positively
 
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applauding what is happening in Zimbabwe, it sends a shiver down one's spine. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield mentioned that earlier.

We have to put greater pressure on our African friends to take action in Zimbabwe and we need more effective sanctions. It is possible to apply more effective and sharper sanctions and it is possible to take action against the deeply revolting business men in this country who are helping to fund the regime in Zimbabwe. We know who they are and we know where they live: it is time that enforcement officers in this country, perhaps emboldened by fresh legislation, took action against them.

I conclude by saying that I hope that all these issues are properly taken into account during this deeply significant week with the G8 meeting at Gleneagles. If we just throw money at the problem and do not resolve the other issues, the effort will largely be wasted, which would be a very great pity indeed.

2.41 pm

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's opening speech, which was excellent, spoken with passion and eloquence and, if I may say so, on the back of a good ministerial track record. I must however add that the congratulatory, nodding consensus across the Floor of the House on this subject is beginning to turn my stomach. I shall want to make some critical comments, but I believe that Gleneagles is a defining moment for this Government. There are a few rare occasions that expose the moral tenor of our times, and the Africa/climate change G8 may turn out, in the breadth of its positive vision, to be one of them. Given the sheer scale of what is being attempted and given that the British Government have been the prime impetus and driver behind the whole project, it must be said that if    this can succeed, it will be one of the most important achievements—perhaps the most important achievement—of the Labour Government so far.

Securing international agreement on wiping out multilateral debt owed to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for 18 of the world's poorest countries, relieving them immediately of £22 billion of debt—a sum that might well be increased to about £28 billion in the next 12 to 18 months with the inclusion of a further nine very poor countries—is unquestionably a huge achievement. The significance of the deal is that dirt-poor countries such as Mozambique, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia, which are now obliged to spend more each year on servicing the debt by paying the interest than on their entire health or education budgets, will now at last have a chance to begin the fight to escape extreme poverty.

The United Nations Development Programme report of a few weeks ago projected that on current trends—that is, before the current deal—there would be 5 million deaths of babies and infants under five in Africa over the next decade. That figure will now be significantly cut as a result of the deal—though, of course, not by enough. I believe that the doubling of aid from $50 billion to about $100 billion a year is still needed in addition. Earlier in the debate, there was some question about the purpose of aid. I believe that its purpose is to build roads and infrastructure, and to put in place the health, education,
 
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training and other public services that are necessary for decent welfare and the economic take-off that the private sector will never provide on its own.

I know that President Bush is saying a bit more today, but the current US offer of $675 million is paltry compared with the extent of need. The US economy is worth $10 trillion; the US spends $400 billion every year on defence, but its aid budget is only 0.16 per cent. of GDP. It is the meanest of all the rich nations, but the Bush Administration are saying in effect that, for Africa, the US can afford an extra amount equal to only 0.08 per cent. of its annual defence budget. The Commission for Africa states in its excellent report that that is just one ninth of the absolute minimum that is necessary. The trouble is that the US never took much interest in Africa—at least until the 1990s, when oil was discovered off the west coast.

Quite rightly, much has been made of corrupt governance in Africa, and that dreadful problem needs to be tackled. It is used as an excuse to withhold aid, but helpful precedents have been agreed by NEPAD and some African Governments that would allow aid expenditure to be monitored and audited by independent agencies. That is a step forward. Moreover, the oil and mining industries that are notorious for bribing Government officials are now subject to transparency guidelines. Again, though, those guidelines must have force and they must be statutory.

The corrupt Governments in Africa are bad, but they are not the only ones at fault. We must not be blind to the fact that western practices are also reprehensible in some respects. All too often, tied aid is used as a form of subsidy for commercial exports. In addition, the US in particular often directs aid as a means of helping military allies such as Israel, and not as a way of relieving poverty. The ActionAid report released last month stated that 40 per cent. of global aid goes on over-priced assistance from international consultants. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has challenged that, but the figure is certainly substantial. So when we hear members of the free-trade right scorn Africa's aid junkies, we must ask exactly who those aid junkies are, and who profits so handsomely from the global aid system.

Considerable advances in aid and debt relief have been made in the run-up to the G8 meeting, but they pale into insignificance when compared with the fundamental goal—to transform the profoundly unjust and discriminatory international trading system that impoverished the developing countries in the first place. We have always demanded free trade from those countries, so that their markets could be opened up to our multinational corporations, but we do not always reciprocate. We do not practise unfettered free trade, as we limit access to our markets by means of quotas, high tariffs, so-called voluntary agreements and a host of other restrictions whenever our domestic industries come under pressure.

If we are honest, we must admit that the west does not really believe in free trade. What we really believe in is safeguarding our economic dominance at all costs. Nearly all the aid, loan and debt-relief packages put together by the World Bank and the IMF are predicated on liberalisation conditionalities. Before they can receive aid, developing countries are required to agree to
 
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dismantle tariff barriers, open up to foreign investment, privatise state-owned companies, reduce public services and hold down wages.

Now we are at it again. Paragraph 2 of the pre-G8 Finance Ministers' statement says that to qualify for debt relief developing countries must

and eliminate

To take just one example among many, that means that Uganda will have to sell off its water supplies, its agricultural services and its commercial bank, all with minimum regulation.

I do not especially like that policy, but if it worked, a good case could be made for it. But it does not work. According to the World Bank's figures, in its recent report, across the 20 years from 1960 to 1980, before it and the IMF started introducing strict conditions on countries that accepted their loans, median annual growth in developing countries was 2.5 per cent. a year. In the 18 years from 1980 to 1998, it was zero or 0.0 per cent. precisely. Trade is the best route out of poverty, as we can all agree, but not if it is fixed to keep developing countries in subjection as mere suppliers of commodities at rock-bottom prices with severely limited access to western markets. Yes, we should cancel the debt, but we should cancel it unconditionally. We also conveniently forget that all countries that have achieved economic take-off have done so behind high protective walls, and I hope that we will consider that for Africa, too.

2.51 pm


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