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Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): I have listened to this afternoon's debate with great interest. I agree with the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) that we should not be ashamed if there is consensus on this issue. If we really are going to make poverty history, we need to combine a concern for poverty with an understanding of wealth creation. We need practical compassion and economic realism.

When one first sees poverty in Africa, one changes. I first experienced it just 18 months ago, although I should point out that I have much less knowledge of this issue than does my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge). Like many other people, I have been sponsoring an HIV-positive child. I went to visit her—she was then 14 years old—and unfortunately, her situation was not unique: I have since discovered that 700,000 children are born with, or infected with, HIV every year. When she was a baby, her father died from AIDS. When she was five, she saw her mother die; she was not supposed to—she peeked through a crack in a hospital door. After that, she was sent to an orphanage, which in those days was more of a hospice; it had no money for antiretroviral medicines. Shortly after she arrived there, her best friend died. She would have gone the same way, too, but for the modern miracle of antiretroviral medicines.

Taking such medicines enables sufferers to become practically fully healthy again. They can go to school and to church; they can joke and participate in games. When they get older they can marry; they can even have children who are not HIV-positive. Fortunately, all the children in that particular orphanage have the proper medication, but it is much more difficult to address the problem in the slums of Africa. For the programmes to work, we need regular testing. In addition, the people taking the medicines need proper nutrition and they need medication for more regular ailments.

The biggest slum in Africa is Kibera, where a quarter of Nairobi's population live. Anyone going there is immediately struck by garbage piled up everywhere, and there is only one toilet for every 200 people. I saw a hungry child eating charcoal. Sometimes HIV-positive mothers work, literally until they drop dead, because they have no other source of income for their family. They often become prostitutes, thus spreading the disease further.

I wholeheartedly support the aims of the Make Poverty History campaign, but there is a danger, in what is happening in Edinburgh, of over-simplifying the
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problem and exaggerating the ease of solving it. Relieving debt, increasing aid and removing trade barriers are part of the solution and represent what we can do, but African Governments must also play their part.

Twenty years ago, the problem of poverty was global; now it is primarily an African problem. We can learn from the countries that have been successful in tackling poverty. Generally, they tackled corruption; they invested in education; most of all, they invested in building up their economic base. Wealth creation is vital for poverty reduction. We should reflect on Japan, which fostered fierce competition between its domestic manufacturers before gradually opening to the world. Hong Kong and China are other examples: they harnessed foreign investment to give them a step up in the expertise needed to run modern businesses and modern economies.

One final ingredient is vital in the fight against poverty. It was identified by Professor David Landes, the Harvard historian, in his book "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations". He tried to examine why some countries were more successful than others in dealing with poverty, but he found that although it was possible to identify factors including climate, religion and culture, none of them were defining characteristics. In the end, he said:

Countries that look for salvation from their own efforts, do not blame others for the problem nor look to others for the solution have generally been the most successful. The disease of helplessness is every bit as damaging as diseases such as AIDS, TB and malaria, because poverty can become a state of mind, not just a state of body.

I conclude by saying that the people will not forgive politicians if the G8 becomes a hollow public relations stunt rather than a real turning-point. Too many countries have eradicated poverty for there to be any excuses from the rich world or the poor. That is why we must match our compassion with clarity, our idealism with realism and our anger with actions.

5.23 pm

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): As chairman and founder of the all-party parliamentary group on microfinance, I should like to make a short contribution on the role of microfinance in helping Africa to fight poverty.

I have been fortunate enough to visit a number of microfinance projects in Ghana. I visited villages in which trust banks of about 20 women were formed. Each woman had her own simple business and working capital was supplied by a group loan. Examples of the businesses included making or mending clothes, making Shea butter or simply buying pots and pans to sell in the local markets. The women supported one another with their enterprises and, amazingly, loan repayments were almost 100 per cent. When I spoke to the women and asked what benefited them most, the first reply was always, "I am able to keep my child at school for longer." Training by local men and women working in the offices of the lending institution also included health education, so there was an add-on of education about HIV/AIDS and an add-on of cleanliness and extra protection.
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I also saw individual projects where loans of about £20 to £50 for the first cycle would start a business, and ate in a restaurant where 42 people were employed, although it had started with a tiny loan.

Microfinance institutions develop and go on to be able to accept savings deposits, so that cash can be accumulated for all sorts of future uses or investments. Insurance schemes can be developed, and credit products have been developed for water, sanitation and housing.

As well as NGOs, banks and the private sector play an increasing role in supporting microfinance. It has been clearly demonstrated in many countries that poor people can make use of financial services. A feature of poverty is exclusion from those services, so inclusion is a positive way forward.

Microfinance allows poor people to increase their sources of income. It is an important tool in tackling extreme poverty, but it also helps to support all the other millennium development goals. It is particularly important for the empowerment of women, who gain more assets, acquire choices and become able to make decisions. It offers a sustainable approach to development, helping families to create businesses. Many speakers in the debate have mentioned business and enterprise, and microfinance works by giving people a hand up, rather than a handout.

Current evidence suggests that about 70 million people are being served by microfinance, and it is hoped the goal of 100 million by 2005 will be reached.

The Commission for Africa report recognises the significance of microfinance. It states:

Lack of access to credit is recognised as a constraint—the number of people without access to bank accounts can be as high as 90 per cent. in some African countries. The report goes on to welcome the renewed focus on all aspects of finance, and to stress how important it is for the successful development of enterprises in Africa.

The all-party group was very proud to have a sub-group nominated as the UK national committee for the UN year of microcredit. This year, 2005, is the special year for microfinance. The members of the sub-group—it really is a sub-group plus—include people from the corporate and academic sectors, as well as representatives from the media and many NGOs. We are very proud of what we have achieved. We launched the year of microcredit at the London stock exchange with Alice Jere, a microfinance client from Zambia.

A number of speeches were made at that event, and Alice spoke alongside the chairman of the stock exchange and the chief executive of a major company. She said:

The all-party group's early-day motion has been signed by 56 hon. Members, and I want to draw the attention of the Secretary of State to our most important demand. We want the G8 summit to encourage the World Bank, the IMF and the African Development Bank as well as African central banks and finance
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ministries to give microfinance increased emphasis, given that 2005 is the UN's year of microcredit. Also, the Commission for Africa has called for a focus on providing access to financial services.

Obviously, microfinance is just one tool, but it has a place alongside all the others. I hope that the Prime Minister will raise the importance of microfinance at the G8 summit. I have heard that President Chirac is going to do so: perhaps the two men will be able to reach an accord on this matter.

5.28 pm

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