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David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con):
My speech will only take a minute. I want to pass on a message from Steven Nyuon, who came to speak at the 60th anniversary service for Christian Aid held in Dumfries.
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Some of the people at the service said that it recognised failure, because Christian Aid was set up in 1945 with many of the same goals for making poverty history that 60 years later have still not been achieved, but Steven, a Sudanese gentleman, gave us hopethe sort of hope that we have heard from others today. He did not say, "Give us money," or "Change the world." He said, "Give us the tools to help us set ourselves free." He gave a simple example: the fishing rods and nets that had been used in his part of Sudan to build businesses and feed people.
That short message, which concludes the Back-Bench contributions, is one of the most important things that we can take from our debate. People can set themselves free if we give them the opportunity to do so.
Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): The debate is timely and important, primarily but not exclusively because of the G8 meeting next week, and also because of the UK presidency of the European Union, the millennium development summit in September, and the World Trade Organisation meeting in Hong Kong in December. The year 2005 is vital for Africa. The Trade Justice Movement and Make Poverty History are to be congratulated on keeping the issues at the forefront of the political agenda.
Accepted analysis is that the House is at its best when being confrontational, yet despite its consensual nature the debate has been informed, intelligent and constructive. The high quality of the debate was begun by the Secretary of State in his excellent opening remarks and continued in the response from my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), the shadow Secretary of State. Both of them made excellent speeches.
There were other excellent contributions and I shall highlight a few of them. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) made an impressive maiden speech which was informed, fluent and passionate. He entwined African and Northern Ireland issues in a skilful way. The whole House will know that he has made significant contributions to peace and progress in Northern Ireland. His personal courage is recognised in all parts of the House. I look forward to further significant contributions from him.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay), in a typically polished contribution, highlighted education and health as important building blocks in alleviating poverty. He also focused on the injustices currently being perpetrated in Zimbabwe, and rightly emphasised the failures of the African Union and South Africa to do more to put pressure on Mugabe to end his tyrannical actions, which damage the rest of Africa, too, especially as significant progress is being made elsewhere on the continent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) has tremendous knowledge in this field and admirably chaired the Select Committee on International Development in the last Parliament. He highlighted climate change and conflict, which afflict the poorest communities. The poorest people suffer the most. He rightly highlighted the importance of the interrelationship between those factors.
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My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) made a lucid speech, drawing on his African experience. He rightly highlighted the damage to the alleviation of poverty in Africa that could be done by the anti-free trade movement and the anti-globalisation movement. He highlighted the necessity for us to open our markets in Europe and articulated the failings of the protectionist vision and the necessity to remove obstacles to wealth creation and the encouragement of private investment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) gave a typically articulate and powerful speech, reflecting on the terrible problems that afflict Darfur at present, with passionate and detailed examples. He will be aware that my views on that issue coincide with his. It is a great shame that the international community has not done more; it is attempting to do too little, too late.
It is our long-term objective to ensure that developing African countries graduate from aid dependency to functioning democracies with successful economies. Like the Government, we are committed to working towards the 2013 UN target of spending 0.7 per cent. of national income on aid. It is clear that well-spent aid works, and the best example of that is the eradication of smallpox. British aid, especially, has helped to immunise millions of children against polio.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield rightly highlighted the fact that the quality of aid is just as important as the quantity, so the Government have an obligation to ensure that UK taxpayers' money is spent effectively and transparently. The European Union is currently widely recognised as one of the least effective aid channels because only 52 per cent. of EU overseas development aid goes to low-income countries. My hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) rightly raised that point in his thoughtful contribution.
Announcements have been made today on progress made with Nigeria's debt relief, and some of the ongoing issues regarding debt relief were highlighted by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). Before the HIPC initiative, heavily-indebted countries were spending more on debt service than health and education combined, as the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) rightly pointed out, although he is sadly no longer in the Chamber.
Money saved through the cancellation of debt must be used effectively to alleviate poverty. Well-managed debt relief has produced many success storiesUganda and Mozambique are but two recent examples. We support the HIPC initiative and the principle of 100 per cent. cancellation of debts to multilateral institutions. We welcome the debt reduction packages that have been approved for 27 countries. However, responsible lending and borrowing are vital to ensure that there is a sustainable end to the debt crisis. The international credit standing of recipient countries must not be compromised, and future loans must be monitored so that we do not have a cycle of borrowing and debt cancellation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) rightly highlighted the importance of trade. Although aid and debt relief
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are necessary, economic development and international trade offer the best hope of long-term sustainable solutions to poverty and suffering in Africa. International trade has lifted up to 500 million people out of poverty in China and south-east Asia. Much of that was achieved through an export-orientated approach that exploited foreign investment to boost local capacity and allow the countries to compete internationally. Not only international trade is needed to maximise the benefits that trade can bring to Africa, but trade in African domestic markets and pan-African trade are needed too.
Sadly, the protectionist trade policies exercised by the US and EU, such as tariff escalation, which undermines private sector development and diversification, have come at the expense of developing countries in Africa. That is nothing short of a disgrace. For example, US cotton subsidies mean that African farmers are competing not against US farmers, but against the US Treasury. Developing countries' agricultural sectors are being crippled because the EU dumps heavily subsidised commodities that are sold at well below the cost of production. EU consumers and taxpayers, via the common agricultural policy, are being forced to finance policies that exacerbate and perpetuate poverty. Current trade restrictions are the biggest impediment to economic advancement and poverty reduction in the developing world.
Some significant bodies believe that infant industry protection and bans on imports into developing countries would help to stimulate their economies, but history is littered with protectionist folly. Import substitution policies insulate local manufacturers and producers from competition, so local consumers consequently pay inflated prices for lower-quality goods while the local industry is unable to sell in international markets. We understand that free trade cannot happen immediately, but we are committed to working towards genuine free and fairer trade for developing countries, especially through the transition period.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) made a knowledgeable speech in which he highlighted the fact that tackling preventable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV and educating and training Africans in health care are essential if we are to end poverty. Disease hinders economic activity. Both my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt), in a moving and intelligent speech, and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries), in a powerful contribution that was allied to personal experience, rightly highlighted the necessity to alleviate HIV/AIDS in Africa.
Many hon. Members rightly highlighted the importance of education, as it is the cornerstone for an economically prosperous society. We welcome the progress made so far, in particular the removal of school fees in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, but much more remains to be done.
Historically, African Governments have suffered from a lack of accountability and a lack of institutions to facilitate a pluralistic civil society, as well as endemic corruption. That has led to chronic political instability and regressive economic performance, impoverishing many millions of Africans. Corrupt leadership, combined with a history of human rights abuses, inter-ethnic rivalries and, more recently, the HIV pandemic,
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have left many parts of Africa lagging behind the rest of the world in creating markets, stable societies, trading and improving the macro and micro-economic well-being of its citizens. The developed world is morally right to, and must, assist, but ultimately the solutions and resolution lie with Africa itself.
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