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Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), who made an outstanding speech. It is a privilege to work with him in my day job, as it were, as a shadow Minister for Northern Ireland. I look forward to working with him in the House for many years.
I welcome the debate and the high profile that international development has these days. I am happy to pay tribute to the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer for working hard towards the goals that we all share, not least on the Conservative Front Bench. I join those who paid tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), who made an outstanding speech.
I want to touch on three issues. There is a campaign with the slogan "trade not aid", but we need both trade and aid. We need to improve the trade prospects of third world countries. Having visited a number of themtwice to Ethiopia, once to Rwanda and once to KenyaI have seen the depths of poverty there. To suggestalthough no hon. Member hasthat those countries can leap forward
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as quickly as they need to do simply because we remove tariff barriers or subsidies is fantasy. When one walks through streets and sees people huddled together, banging pieces of tin with bricks to make something to sell, one realises that they have a long way to go before they can compete in the markets that should rightly be open to them. I am not saying that we should not remove trade barriers or subsidies, because we certainly should, but we also need to do much more to help those countries progress.
On a recent visit to Ethiopia, I visited a hospital where the surgeon was an 80-year-old lady who was doing a fantastic job, but in the countryside I saw the true meaning of a hospital queue, with people physically sitting outside the hospital. We saw that people live in a space no bigger than the Table in the Chamber, and it has to accommodate 10 or 12 people or families and their animals. We also saw girls who spend their entire lives walking to collect water. That made us realise how much we need to do to enable those countries to compete. We must remember that we have to provide development aid in particular to them, as well as humanitarian aid, which is provided in response to disasters. As well as removing trade barriers, we need to do our utmost to persuade the supermarkets, which have enormous power, to buy more goods from the third world and to have them correctly labelled so that consumers can choose to contribute to the development of third world countries in that way.
Although it is important to give money to good Governments, we have to remember that people who live in countries that are corrupt or at war are probably in greater need than those who live in countries without those problems. It is more difficult to deliver aid in those circumstances, but it is even more important to do so and to find a way to do so. That is best done through non-governmental organisations. I pay tribute to the aid workers on the ground. I have seen the jobs that they do. They risk their lives, are away from their families and live in appalling conditions to save the lives of the people in those countries. I want to place on the record my appreciation for their work. It is important to recognise the value of their enthusiasm.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) spoke earlier about our visit to Rwanda, where we walked through the bones and skulls of people who had been massacred in the genocide. Strangely enough, what made me feel worse was our visit to the trials, where we saw quite ordinary-looking people who had hacked others to death. We wondered whether the situation could ever be sorted out, or whether we were just wasting our time. Gradually, however, we realised that the fact that those ordinary-looking people had done that kind of thing was a reason to help. That is also what motivates the people who work on the ground in those countries.
I think that I shall be the lone voice speaking in support of Ethiopia today. We have heard a number of criticisms of the Ethiopian Government, and I share the concerns about the situation that led to 20 people being killed there, and about the people who are being held without charge for demonstrating. I shall certainly do my little bit to persuade the Government there to bring about a speedy conclusion to that situation. I must point out, however, that only about 14 years ago, Ethiopia was in the grip of a Marxist Government. Recent
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elections there were observed by 300 international observers, there has been an economic growth rate of about 5 per cent., and more and more children go to school these days. The Ethiopian Government have also initiated a resettlement programme. Although quite crude, it is trying to bring people from the non-fertile areas, which are desperately poor, into areas in which they might be able to grow and have access to food.
The Ethiopian Government are doing everything that they can. I understand the Secretary of State's decision to suspend the increase in aid to EthiopiaI have discussed the matter with himbut I would ask him to keep in close touch with the Ethiopian Prime Minister. I know from our discussions that he will. As I said earlier, the poorer a country is, the more help it needs. We have to accept that this is Africa, for goodness' sake, and we cannot judge Africa by our own standards. We have our own problems with electoral systems in this country, and if we are going to say that anyone who does not have a perfect Government and a perfect country cannot have aid, I suggest that we are missing the point.
I know that the Secretary of State will keep a close watch on what is happening in Ethiopia, with a view to continuing to increase the aid. I commend the Government for having done so in the past, and I hope that we shall be able to resume providing Ethiopia with the help that it needs. It is a desperately poor country, and it really needs our help. The blind children and the crippled children on the streets are the ones who need help, not the Ethiopian Government. I urge the House to have some tolerance for what is going on in Ethiopia and to recognise the real progress that it has made.
John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): May I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) on one of the best maiden speeches that I have heard? I look forward to hearing more from him in the future. I also want to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on one of the best Front-Bench speeches that I have heard in the nearly five years that I have been here.
Much attention has understandably focused on the steps that the leaders of the G8 can take when they meet at Gleneagles this weekend. Today, however, I want briefly to mention an issue that will be largely unaffected by the decisions taken at the summit, but which I hope will not be forgotten. Poverty is not a problem that we associate with one of Africa's richest countries, and certainly not with one of its oil-rich regions. Up to 2 million barrels of oil a day are pumped from the Niger delta's swamps. They provide Nigeria with 80 per cent. of its revenues and 98 per cent. of its exports. However, most ordinary Nigerians do not see the benefit of this wealth. Seven out of 10 Nigerians live on less than $1 a day. The disparity is particularly pronounced in the Niger delta, where much of the wealth comes from, and I shall explain why that is the case and what can be done.
Oil is a mixed blessing. It provides great wealth, but it has troubling consequences. In the Gulf states, for example, it provides regimes with so much money that they do not have to levy significant taxes on the population. Great, one might think, but it means that leaders can operate without representative government, so they do not pay any attention to the needs and wishes
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of their people. In the Niger delta, since the 1970s, revenues amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars have been grabbed by central Government and local politicians, and have been largely wasted. Since President Obasanjo came to power in 1999, the country has experienced greater stability. He took steps to rein in the politicised army, but the situation remains fragile. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that the Paris club had reached agreement on Nigeria's debt, which is welcome news. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin), I would be grateful to know how much debt relief will be provided.
The Nigerian Government need to do much more to provide a stable basis for the delta. They must guarantee that the 2007 elections will be free and fair; otherwise no amount of work by non-governmental organisations or foreign Governments will bring peace and prosperity to the region. There will be primary elections next year, but the country has the capacity to explode into civil war. The 2006 primaries will draw attention to local areas such as the Niger delta, where there is extreme violence. Ethnic and religious strife threatens to overwhelm any future development. Rival militias in the delta have cost hundreds of lives since 2003 and caused tens of thousands of people to flee their homes. What chance is there for people to escape poverty when they do not even have secure shelter? Indeed, the militias are exploiting poverty. One particularly sinister leader, Mujahid Dobuko-Asari, is posing as a champion of the oppressed. He demands a greater part of the oil profits for his Ijaw tribe, but in practice he causes mayhem. According to Human Rights Watch, the police do not have the firepower to take on the militia, so Mr. Asari takes in the jobless youngsters of the delta, obtains weapons which are more sophisticated than those carried by the police, and talks of an "armed struggle".
Militias and their fighters have made attacks on the oil industry, and many have dubious roles as private security contractors. With the state unable to guarantee security, what are the oil companies to do? Should they make unorthodox payments to those so-called contractors, or should they wait for their production to be stopped by violence? The people of the Niger delta need security and a stronger state if development is to progress. As well as working on aid and debt, the British Government and others must work with the Nigerian Government to ensure that the rule of law returns to the Niger delta. If the rule of law is restored, there is a chance that the billions of dollars worth of wealth created in the Niger delta will spread to the rest of Nigeria, so that the 70 per cent. of the population who live on less than $1 a day can perhaps earn more money.
Earlier this year, our former colleague Bill Tynan was instrumental in setting up the all-party parliamentary group on the Niger Delta. Following Bill's retirement, I have taken over the group's chairmanship. I pay tribute to Bill's dedication in setting up the group, and I am grateful for his advice on the subject. In fact, he still advises me and has done so this week, even though he is on holiday in Spain. The Niger delta group is making good progress. On 16 June, we held our annual general meeting, which was attended by representatives from Shell, communities in the delta, and a researcher who
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has been investigating the region's problems and reported to the group at first hand. In the past few weeks more than 30 MPs have joined the group, and Lord Jenkin, who is a vice-chair, is taking up the baton in the other place.
In a few weeks I shall be leading a delegation to the delta in order to assess the situation on the ground. We will meet representatives of the Government and the oil companies, as well as many ordinary people who live in the area. In advance of the trip we will be in close touch with the Foreign Office. I have already had a short discussion with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, and I know that he is looking forward to me briefing him on my return from the delta. I look forward to doing so.
I know that other Members want to speak and raise a range of important issues relating to poverty throughout Africa, so I shall not detain the House any longer than necessary. A Labour Member does not usually have the opportunity to slow up Opposition Members who want to speak, but in this case I will give up some of my time to allow them to speak on a subject on which there is cross-party agreement.
With Nigeria's great potential, including its wealth and resources, it is a natural candidate to leave the way in the development of Africa. I have outlined a few of the serious challenges that stand in the way. As the Minister for Trade and Investment said, if Nigeria does not meet its millennium development goals, Africa cannot meet them. That is why we must work with the people of Nigeria. I urge my right hon. Friend to do everything he can, and I know he will, to help make the Niger delta prosperous and to expand its wealth to the rest of Nigeria and, hopefully, point the way in democracy for the rest of Africa.
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