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John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): It is a great pleasure to follow two Members—the hon. Members for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks)—who represent different parts of Perthshire, where the G8 summit will be held. Apart from the summit, we shall have the Make Poverty History march, which will take place in my own city of Edinburgh, the Live 8 concert, which will be attended by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, and the descent of the potential million forecast by Bob Geldof on the city during the following week.

The summit may constitute one of the most significant meetings ever to take place in Scotland. The decisions and agreements made there will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the future of not just Africa but the entire planet. The G8 nations account for 65 per cent. of global GDP and 47 per cent. of global carbon dioxide emissions. With climate change and Africa dominating next week's G8 agenda, it is no exaggeration to say that those countries, acting together, could make an enormous difference on both issues.

As the Prime Minister said several years ago, Africa remains a scar on the conscience of the world. Despite all the words and all the promises, the scar is far from being healed. For too many years, political leaders have sat on their hands making grand gestures when real action has been required. The G8 summit marks a unique opportunity for the UK to lead the way and broker an agreement to help Africa lift itself out of the extreme poverty that it is experiencing. It is an opportunity that we cannot afford to squander.

It is important to pay tribute to the work of the Make Poverty History campaign, which has been extraordinarily successful in bringing this issue to the forefront of debate in the House and throughout the country. For many years, I have witnessed at first hand in Africa the terrible effect of poverty and also the real potential for the future. Allowing Africa to take control of that future requires meaningful action on our part in three fundamentally important areas: aid, debt and trade.

We must be committed to the principle of fair trade, not just free trade. We must drop the remaining debts that continue to cripple so many African countries, and we need all the G8 countries to make real strides towards meeting the requirements on international aid to achieve the millennium development goals. At the same time, it is crucial that we continue to tackle corruption, and support and encourage the transition to stable democracy throughout Africa.

It is clear that poverty in Africa cannot be eradicated without a major increase in international aid. The millennium development goals require that all countries work toward providing 0.7 per cent. of their national income in aid. The target is both realistic and achievable, but currently only five of the 22 major donors have met it. The UK Government have done well finally to establish a timetable for reaching the target, but 11 donors still have no timetable and many appear to be in no hurry. If current trends continue, Canada will not reach the target until 2025 and Germany will not do so before 2087.
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What is more, the sums that rich countries currently invest in tackling global poverty remain embarrassingly small. Even worse, the wealthier that these countries have become, the less they have given. The sad truth is that today, the world's richest countries give half as much, as a proportion of their income, as they did in the 1960s. The Government of the USA, the richest country in the world, spend just 0.1 per cent. of gross domestic product on aid, yet the same Government are able to find twice as much to spend on the war in Iraq as they would need to spend to increase their aid budget to 0.7 per cent. of GDP. I very much hope that the G8 summit will provide the Prime Minister with the opportunity to show the benefits of his special relationship with George Bush by his persuading the USA to commit to those increases.

On top of this, too often the aid and assistance that we have given has been unhelpfully politicised. In recent years, the very goals of development aid have been redefined to suit the new security agenda. For example, in Denmark, Japan and Australia, combating terrorism is now an explicit aim of official aid programmes. It is a question of priorities, and I am afraid that ending poverty in Africa is simply not at the top of that list. In recent years, it has not even been close.

It is clear that poverty in Africa will not be solved by simply throwing money at it. Without a wide-ranging change in how aid is delivered, it will not achieve maximum benefit. Aid needs to focus better on the needs of the poorest, which means more being spent on basic health care and education, for example. Aid should no longer be conditional on recipients promising economic changes such as privatisation or deregulation of services, and the interests of the donor country certainly should not be put above those of the recipient. Currently, almost 30 per cent. of G7 aid is tied to an obligation to buy goods and services from the donor country. That is a truly shameful statistic.

It is worth noting that many countries that we now consider "developed" would not enjoy their current economic status but for their having received substantial amounts of aid. Lest we forget, after the second world war, 16 western European nations—ourselves included—benefited from grants from the USA worth more than $75 billion in today's terms. Those grants underpinned our economic recovery and have helped to create today's climate of peace and prosperity. More recently, EU structural funds have supported growth in Spain and in other southern European countries. Yet even though it has been proven that aid can work effectively, African countries have not yet benefited from the same generosity.

I will not say much on debt, given the Chancellor's recent announcements about increasing the number of countries to be freed from debt, which were welcome. I hope that they will be followed by the announcement of more initiatives in the week ahead. But even if African countries are freed from debt, their situation can only improve with a change in the way that we trade with them. By developing a genuinely liberal and international trade policy, we can enable major opportunities for growth and development in the parts of the world that need it most. Currently, the rules of international trade remain stacked in the favour of the richest and most powerful countries. Opening European markets to the products of the poorest countries would help their economies, and stopping the
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dumping of subsidised EU food in Africa would help African farmers to become more self-sufficient. These basic acts could do more than aid could possibly hope to achieve. An increase in Africa's share of world exports of just 1 per cent. would be enough to raise the equivalent of more than five times the total amount of aid given to that region.

We are part of the solution, but we are also part of the problem. A timely report published last week by Oxfam and Amnesty International highlighted the extent to which the UK and other G8 countries are exporting arms to many African countries, fuelling poverty, oppression and human rights abuses. The report pointed out that Britain, France and the US have made more money in the past four years from arms exports to Asia, Africa, the middle east and South America than they have offered to those regions in humanitarian aid. This report comes at just the right time to remind us of our role in Africa's plight. Rather than just being spectators to a crisis, in many instances we are playing a leading role.

Poverty in Africa has been created and sustained not merely by chance or nature, but by a combination of factors—injustice in global trade, the huge burden of debt, insufficient and ineffective aid and global warming. They all play their part and each of those factors is determined by human decisions, yet we continue to condemn Africa to a future of poverty through our consistent failure to act on those issues.

We are partly responsible for the continuing plight of much of Africa and we must start living up to that responsibility. We need to recognise that we have a responsibility and a moral obligation to act. A good test of the humanity of a society is how it treats the least privileged—and many of them live in Africa. The eyes of the world are on the G8 next week. We must all ensure that, after everyone has gone home, the momentum is maintained.

We could do worse than follow the example of one of my own constituents, John Mackay, who has launched an organisation called Sailing for Justice. Included in that organisation's project is a non-stop circumnavigation of the world, starting and ending in Scotland and taking the Make Poverty History message around the globe. Through this year and the next, we in the House must, like my constituent, continue our commitment for as long as it takes to make poverty history.

4.1 pm

Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): I begin by acknowledging the immense progress made on debt relief and poverty eradication through the leadership shown by the Secretary of State for International Development and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in developing pro-poor polices, which can only benefit all developing countries, and particularly the poorest countries in Africa.

I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree that among the major causes of poverty in Africa are poor maternal and child heath, the status of women and HIV/AIDS. I believe that major and sustained interventions in sexual and reproductive health are vital for the future of Africa and are the key to sustainable development there.
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Sub-Saharan Africa is the world's poorest place, with 70 per cent. of its people living on less than $2 a day. Fertility is highest in the poorest countries as well as among the poorest people in those societies. It should be no surprise that those same places have the highest levels of unmet need for family planning and reproductive health services. According to the environmental sustainability taskforce, that need, together with health, education and gender equality issues, must be addressed with policies and programmes that will slow population growth and realise synergistic improvements. At a national level, fertility reduction may enable accelerated social and economic development. Conversely, the absence of sexual and reproductive health and rights undermines development.

It is widely recognised that reproductive illness and unintended pregnancies detract from economic development, whether by weakening or killing adults, disrupting and cutting short the lives of their children or placing heavy financial burdens on their families. Sexual and reproductive health and rights also deals with poverty and development in the wider context. The ability to exercise rights and freedoms of choice brings self-determination, which, in turn, has a direct impact on individuals' ability to emerge from poverty.

Sub-Saharan Africa is confronted by continuing high population growth, youthful populations, low contraceptive prevalence, the highest rates of HIV/AIDs and high unmet need for family planning. Poor reproductive health accounts for 40 per cent. of the diseases suffered by women and one in 20 women in Africa die from pregnancy-related causes, in comparison with one in 16 in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, if all the available condoms in Africa were evenly distributed, each man would receive only three or four per year. There is a huge gap between the demand for condoms and the funding available for them.

Of the world's 875 million illiterate adults, two thirds are women. Gender equality is a catalyst for development because women who can plan the timing of their pregnancies and the number of children that they have have greater opportunities for work and education. Empowering people to exercise their rights over fertility and to choose the number and spacing of their children is a very powerful tool in the fight to reduce poverty.

Gender equality is essential for achieving the millennium development goals. It cannot be achieved without guaranteeing the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls.

Seven priorities for action have been identified by the gender and education taskforce in order to achieve gender equality. One of them is ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Specific interventions to address gender inequality should be an intrinsic part of all MDG-based investment packages. There should also be systematic challenges, such as the protection of sexual and reproductive health and rights, including access to information and family planning services.

One African in two are under the age of 20. More than 40 million of Africa's children are not in school, and two thirds of them are girls. Families with fewer children spaced further apart can invest more in each child's
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education. That, of course, is of particular benefit to girls, as a girl's education may have a significantly lower priority than the education of a boy child in the family.

Children in large families are likely to have reduced health care, and unwanted children are much more likely to die than wanted ones. Our mission in relation to child mortality is clear. Where mothers live, their children are much more likely to live. Where mothers are healthy, their children have a much better chance of being, and staying, healthy.

There are 529,000 maternal deaths each year, and half of them are in Africa. Every day, 1,400 women die from preventable pregnancy-related causes. The child health and maternal health taskforce recommends that an additional target be included for monitoring the fifth of the millennium development goals, which is to achieve universal access to reproductive health service by 2015, through the primary health care system, and to ensure the same rate of progress, or faster, among the poor and other marginalised groups.

More than 17 million Africans have died from AIDS, and another 25 million are infected with the HIV virus. Approximately 1.9 million of those are children. UNAIDS estimates that, this year alone, another 3 million people in sub-Saharan Africa will be infected with HIV.

Our approach to HIV/AIDS should be based on an integrated model of sexual and reproductive health care. The Millennium Project's HIV taskforce stated:

National Governments should incorporate universal access to reproductive health and sexual health services and information as an integral part of their AIDS responses.

I am sure hon. Members of all parties would agree that the empowerment of women is a development end in itself. Removing the obstacles to women's exercise of economic and, indeed, political power is also one of the most important ways to end poverty. Reproductive health is a part of an essential package of health care and education. It is a means to the goal of women's empowerment, but it is also a human right. It includes the right to choose the size and spacing of the family. It is by far the easiest and most cost-effective way to help people of all nations out of poverty, and it is essential to ensuring that the millennium development goals are achieved.

It has been said twice already in the debate that we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at the G8 and the summit on the millennium development goals. I know that the Government believe that better reproductive health is crucial to reducing poverty in Africa and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to tell the House in his response to the debate that the Government will push reproductive health and rights in discussions at the G8 and push for their inclusion at the millennium development goals summit in September.

4.10 pm

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