Previous SectionIndexHome Page

18 Oct 2005 : Column 201WH—continued

18 Oct 2005 : Column 202WH

G8 Agenda for Africa

10.59 am

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): It is with great pleasure that I introduce this important debate. I was about to say that I look forward to contributions from other hon. Members, but not many of them are here, so instead I shall look forward with great anticipation to the Under-Secretary's response to the debate. It is surprising that few hon. Members are present because this is the first opportunity that we have had to discuss the G8 agenda, how it applies to Africa, how it is being implemented and whether the proposals go far enough to deal with the serious and intractable problems of the continent.

It might be helpful if I put the debate into context. Let me take hon. Members back a few months to those heady pre-summit days, when the whole world seemed to be mobilised in the cause of making poverty history—the days of the impressive Live 8 concerts throughout the world at which celebrities and artists spoke so passionately about the cause of Africa. At the time we really believed that there was a once-in-a-generation opportunity for eight men in a room to get to grips with a serious problem. One of my overriding memories of the period is that of fingers clicking, signifying how every three seconds a child dies of poverty in Africa. At the time, however, what most impressed me was the massive demonstration in Edinburgh, when a quarter of a million people marched through the streets. They were like a human white band, united in optimism. That mass outpouring was as unprecedented as it was impressive; we had seen nothing quite like it before. Prior to the summit there was a genuine belief that the mass mobilisation would make a difference—that it would be enough to encourage world leaders and Governments to make the political commitment and commit the resources necessary to end the scandal in Africa.

Here in the United Kingdom, we took the Government's commitment to lead the cause at face value. We were impressed by the way in which they placed Africa and world poverty at the centre of the G8 agenda. We watched the Chancellor look at the problems of the continent and speak to African leaders. We listened with awe as he rattled off massive, impenetrable figures in his usual manner, committing the Government to the continent. I think that we were all seduced by what was happening. I certainly was. As I marched with those people in Edinburgh, I really felt that something would happen. I was lucky enough to get tickets to the Live 8 concert at Murrayfield. I heard Bob and Bono say that they were going to Gleneagles the next day to secure a history-making deal. I was particularly delighted that beautiful Perthshire had been chosen as the location for the G8 summit. Everyone in Perthshire was excited about the event. I was looking forward to the days after the summit and to introducing "the Perthshire accord" as the significant moment when we turned the corner in dealing with the issues of the continent.

Then, of course, the summit was over. Suddenly, reality kicked in and we all sobered up pretty damn quickly. Yes, we had seen the beaming faces of world leaders and Heads of Governments and heard them trumpet the summit as a great success and say what a great deal it was for Africa. Even Bob and Bono gave it
18 Oct 2005 : Column 203WH
10 out of 10 and practically demobbed us from the cause, just as we had started to get the whole thing going. However, it did not seem like an historic and significant agreement. It did not read like an historic and significant agreement. It read like what it was: a welcome, but modest, set of proposals that will help Africa, of course, but do little to deal with the fundamental problems of the continent.

The G8 summit just fizzled out. I accept that the London bombings happened and, quite rightly, the attention of the press focused on that. As a result, however, much of the energy that had been generated by the G8 summit was lost; it just evaporated in a most unsatisfactory way. Since Gleneagles, the familiar, more depressing images of Africa have come back to haunt our television screens, such as reports of the famine in Niger. We now know that there are great difficulties throughout southern Africa, from Uganda to Zambia and from Mozambique to Zimbabwe, where there is now a real threat of drought and further famine. Africa does not look or feel like a continent that is getting better; it looks like a continent that is continuing to get sicker. That is why we need the deal to be implemented fast.

During the summer, the non-governmental organisations and the aid agencies had an opportunity to assess the G8 proposals for Africa properly. Their examination has been forensic, so now is the time to ask questions. What has been done since Gleneagles? How far have we got in implementing the commitments? Will we get measures in place quickly enough to deal with the problems that are emerging in southern Africa? Are the commitments enough even to start to deal with the crippling concoction of issues that Africa has to deal with every day? What real difference will they make on the ground? Most important, what more must we now do to secure real justice for Africa?

Before we examine all those things, it might be useful to review what was agreed at the Gleneagles summit. There was a commitment to double aid by 2010: we were told that there would be an extra $50 billion worldwide and an extra $25 billion for Africa. The debts of 18 of the world's poorest countries, most of which are in Africa, would be written off: we were told that that was worth $40 billion, and will be worth in excess of $50 billion as more countries qualify. In a welcome move, Nigeria's debt—worth $17 billion—to the Paris Club was written off. There was a commitment to end all export subsidies, although the detail of how that was to be achieved was vague. The G8 also committed to reducing domestic subsidies, although how that was to be delivered was even more vague. Almost laughably now, it was agreed that developing countries will

That commitment needs to be examined forensically, especially given all the stringent conditionalities that have emerged during the summer. There were other welcome commitments about tackling HIV/AIDS and improving health care generally, as well as good news about increasing access to free education. It was all good stuff and to be welcomed.
18 Oct 2005 : Column 204WH

I have reeled off the issues briefly, but the main headline was the news about debt relief and increased aid. Not even the most enthusiastic champion of the Gleneagles settlement would say that it was a great deal for trade justice. Looking at the final communiqué from the G8, one could argue that trade justice is going backwards, given all the references to increased liberalisation, privatisation and reciprocal market access. Let us be charitable, however, and leave trade justice to the side and focus on what was said about aid and debt relief. Let us unravel those measures a little to see whether they do what they say on the tin and whether we are close to having them delivered.

I welcome immensely what was delivered at Gleneagles. It was great—anything extra to Africa has to be welcomed and everybody present should welcome it. However, there is a big difference between welcoming what was agreed and agreeing that it is enough to deal with some of the intractable issues in Africa. I appreciate that this is only the start of the process—we have taken a long time to get started—and that further commitments will be rolled out in the near future. In return, I expect honesty in terms of acknowledging the limitations of the agreement. We should examine the problems of its implementation and continue to press for the increased resources that we as a very rich nation can deliver. We could deliver so much more than we do.

I know that it is in the instincts of Governments to spin—to make modest achievements look like great successes—but that is singularly unhelpful when dealing with issues such as the problems of Africa, which we must all unite to deal with. We have to be realistic and accept the limitations and deficiencies of some of the proposals. Government should also be big enough to accept the helpful criticism offered by aid agencies and NGOs. They are trying, not to embarrass the Government or trip them up, but to get the best deal for the world's poor.

Let us consider the extra money and debt cancellation. During the summer NGOs and aid agencies examined the commitment and discovered that it is more fragile than we thought. Make Poverty History says that of the $50 billion of "new money", only £7 billion is new money; the rest has already been committed through other programmes. The amount talked about ranges from £7 billion and £20 billion, so I should like the Under-Secretary to say clearly how much of the package involves new money and how much of the money has been recycled from pledges already made to the continent.

Let us look at how far the agreement extends. Only 18 countries—those that have reached the completion point of the heavily indebted poor countries initiative—will qualify for the debt relief package decided by the G8. There are about 53 countries in Africa and most of the poorest nations are excluded from the proposals. I know and accept that there is a commitment to include other nations, but will the Minister say when other countries will be included, how quickly that will happen and what conditions they will have to meet?

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): I acknowledge the strength of what the hon. Gentleman is saying. However, he is not arguing, is he, that debt relief should be given, for example, to countries that are still engaged in civil war, which are likely to spend the money
18 Oct 2005 : Column 205WH
made available on armaments, or to countries in which corruption is so great that we could not be sure that the money would be used wisely?

Pete Wishart : Absolutely not. We have to clearly define what we mean by conditionalities. Nobody would argue that money should be given to corrupt regimes that would waste it in their own fantasy worlds, but insisting on economic policies such as further privatisations makes a big difference and concerns the aid agencies and the NGOs. Why do we insist on those conditions being met before money is given?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas) : Let me deal with that now. We are not interested in further privatisations. Given the hon. Gentleman's research for this debate, I am surprised that he is unaware of the statement made in March by the Secretary of State for International Development, in which my right hon. Friend made it absolutely clear that we do not insist on privatisation or other policy options.

Pete Wishart : I am grateful for that clarification. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will explain the fine print in the communiqué of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank on ratifying the G8 proposals. It states clearly that the countries that have achieved the HIPC completion point will have to demonstrate

There is a lot in the fine print of that communiqué. Will the hon. Gentleman address some of those issues in his summing-up and tell us what is meant by those clear statements from the IMF and the World Bank?

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I hope that the Minister will also address the UK Government's complicity in water privatisation arrangements that have failed catastrophically in Tanzania and Sierra Leone, which have clearly embarrassed the UK companies involved.

Pete Wishart : The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The conditionalities are a real concern for aid agencies and international organisations. The issue will be the subject of much campaigning, especially by Jubilee 2000, in the next few months. I hope that hon. Members will look carefully at the case made by the aid agencies and NGOs and support their efforts. It is important that we do that, given that the World Trade Organisation is to meet in a few months' time. Those conditionalities will be the focus of international aid, debt relief and further contributions to Africa in the next few months. I hope that we will engage seriously in that debate.

Returning to the agreement, issues remain even for those 18 countries that are fortunate enough to be part of the process. The small print is crucial. To qualify for HIPC completion, the 18 nations have to jump through all sorts of hoops and it seems from the IMF communiqué that more hoops will have to be jumped through in future. The IMF could not be clearer when it says that

18 Oct 2005 : Column 206WH

have to be adopted by the 18 countries. That suggests that further conditions will have to be met before the debt relief is written off. I should like those statements to be clarified. Will eligibility for the programme depend on the adoption of the economic policies prescribed by the IMF and the World Bank? Many in the NGO community and among the general public think that it will be.

There is also a general assumption that, on the conclusion of the agreement, the money will immediately be available for African Governments and nations to use to embark on new development programmes and to try to achieve economic growth. Governments have encouraged that attitude. However, although it is true that the 18 eligible countries will qualify for 100 per cent. debt cancellation, that deal seems to be funded by a redistribution of all the available aid for those nations. That is particularly true of the assistance being offered by the International Development Association. That is an important point, because it seems likely that, as debt is written off, the assistance given through further aid will be reduced. That is giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Some NGOs believe that the package that we are discussing will account for only 10 per cent. of the debt owed by such countries. I would like the Minister to clarify that point. Will countries receiving debt relief be subject to a commensurate reduction in the resources that they receive from the IDA? That is a crucial point.

The deal also proposes that the World Bank be compensated for the extra expenditure through an increase in contributions to the IDA from the G8 and other donor nations, thus restoring its funding to previous levels. The new money is to be distributed to all 81 countries that receive money from the IDA. It will be given out in proportion to how well they conform with World Bank-approved economic and social policy. Does the Minister believe that money should be taken away when countries are given a debt relief package? Surely new money pledged should not be taken away through other sources.

Everywhere we go in this process, our old friends the conditionalities raise their heads. That will be the subject of a campaign in the next few months, and I hope that hon. Members will participate in it. The conditionalities are actually contrary to the part of the G8 agreement that states that developing countries should

I want to find out how conditionalities match up with that clear commitment in the G8 accord.

The biggest concern is whether the proposals are enough to deal with the intractable problems in Africa. I suggest that they are not. We have to get back to the clear programme set out for trying to achieve the millennium development goals. I am glad that there is now a target to reach—an historic commitment to give 0.7 per cent. of gross national income as overseas aid—but that commitment was made 35 years ago. Every year that we renege on that commitment, we short-change the world's poor.

There seems to be a misunderstanding of where the figure of 0.7 per cent. comes from and what it represents. The most common misunderstanding is that the 0.7 per cent. is somehow charity or a gift from the rich nations
18 Oct 2005 : Column 207WH
to the poor nations, but as Kumi Naidoo consistently points out, it has nothing to do with charity; it is about justice. It is reparation for what we as colonising powers did to African nations. It is about redressing the debt owed after impoverishing a continent through subjugation, slavery and brutal extraction. Once those developing countries secured their independence and started their fledgling democracies, we kicked them around like footballs during the cold war.

Debt cancellation has nothing to do with charity; it is about historical redress. We knew what we were doing when we gave massive loans to corrupt, tin-pot dictators and their crazy programmes, because they were our tin-pot dictators. Let us therefore accept that the 0.7 per cent. figure has nothing to do with charity and everything to do with doing the right thing. Every year that we delay the payment, we postpone repaying our historical debt. We know that the money can be found. We need only look at Iraq: some £500 million has already been spent in that war and some £30 billion of debt was written off under the debt package for oil-rich Iraq. As I said at the outset, Africa must be seen to become the people's international priority. If we were to ask people on what they would like such sums to be spent, I believe that Africa would rank pretty high on the list, and a war on Iraq would probably rank pretty low, if not come right at the bottom.

We face the depressing conclusion that compliance commitments to Africa made by the G8 and the international community in general have been less than robust. The Toronto-based group that considers such issues concluded that the G8 is notoriously bad at keeping its promises to Africa. That is why I have consistently called for some sort of compliance facility to monitor the roll-out of not just the Gleneagles commitment, but other commitments made to Africa over the past few decades. I have helpfully suggested that that should be based in Perthshire, close to where the Gleneagles summit took place. Is the Minister happy with the record of compliance with previous G8 commitments? Does he perceive a role for a UK-based agency that could bring together the national Governments, the NGOs and the African nations to ensure that there is proper compliance with what is agreed?

I reiterate that I welcome what was agreed at the G8. However, I do not think that it will make poverty history. I think that poverty will be a depressing ever-present reality until we get close to getting the millennium development goals back on track and to meeting our 0.7 per cent. of GNI commitment. Kumi Naidoo said of the G8 summit that the people roared and the G8 whispered; that is the best quote I have heard on that event. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response, hopefully at full volume.

11.20 am

Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) on securing the debate.

Issues to do with international development have risen to the top of the media agenda in recent years, in large part due to this Government's prioritisation of the
18 Oct 2005 : Column 208WH
subject. Such political and media attention has created for those of us who care passionately about the subject a unique opportunity to effect the change that those who need development aid so desperately need.

I will not rehearse the long list of policy accomplishments for which this Government can rightly take credit, other than to note with satisfaction that a great number of the world's most pressing poverty issues have been addressed seriously for the first time. As a result, aid agencies have benefited from the greatest increase in developmental spending by any British Government. That is what I want to talk about today, because it is clear that the growing role of non-governmental organisations in aid delivery gives rise not only to great possibilities but to challenges, and some of those challenges have yet to be met by the organisations that serve the world's poorest and most vulnerable people.

In order to make the most of the time allowed to me today, I will focus on two aspects of aid implementation which I believe should be addressed as a matter of urgency: the need for greater accountability and co-operation by NGOs, particularly in emergency situations; and the need to improve the quality of facilitation and implementation in the field, where long-term development assistance is being offered.

In times of emergencies, such as those on Boxing day last year in south-east Asia and more recently in the United States and Pakistan, the generosity of the Government and individuals is often swift and bountiful. The combination of saturation news coverage, plentiful funding and genuine human suffering places great pressure on aid organisations to take immediate action, or, as is sometimes the case, to be seen to take action. The era of intense competition has reached the aid community, so the need for agencies to satisfy donors, supporters and the public with regular appearances on the television and the nation's media in general should not be surprising.

Many journalists and aid workers who have worked amid catastrophe often return home with stories of confusion, duplication and territorialisation among the aid community. Such anecdotal reports are no longer the preserve of hard-pressed or cynical reporters and field workers. The 2005 Red Cross disasters report confirms what many have suspected for some time. The section of the report that refers to the tsunami relief in Aceh states:

I commend and fully support the Red Cross for taking the bold decision to publish such a forthright account of the aid situation. As policy makers, we must rise to the
18 Oct 2005 : Column 209WH
challenge set by the report and act with impunity against aid agencies that operate without the interests of the suffering as their only priority.

There is often a political vacuum in areas of conflict or humanitarian crisis. The United Nations commands deep respect and a degree of legitimacy, but it is not legally mandated to co-ordinate and control such situations. If a UN representative witnesses non-co-operation or bad practice within the aid community, what can they do? The answer all too often is nothing. That is unacceptable and must be remedied to ensure best practice at all times and in all places.

The second aspect of aid implementation is the delivery of long-term assistance. Spending on aid to Africa has historically been low. The Government have been redressing that in recent years, and soon they will be spending £1.25 billion on aid to Africa each year. That should be celebrated as a welcome step, not a modest one, towards enabling African recovery.

Success with local economic development initiatives in Africa has often proved stubbornly elusive. However, that should never be used as an excuse to avoid investment in such initiatives; it should inspire us to gain a deeper understanding of the areas of greatest weakness in poverty-alleviation schemes. Often the weakest links in the chain from donor to recipient are those who are charged with implementing and facilitating development on the ground. We often talk about the lack of capacity in communities receiving assistance, but we also need to focus on the lack of capacity in the agencies charged with implementing aid. Such agencies include governmental as well as non-governmental organisations.

Aid work relies heavily on those charged with implementation of assistance, and the vast expansion in community-based development initiatives of recent years has placed a strain on agencies' capacity to recruit staff of adequate abilities and experience who are willing to work in remote and isolated places. As a major donor, this country must consider that factor. In addition to spending on projects, investment in human resources and in education systems that provide training on aid implementation would be a great asset to African development.

Thanks to this Government, the aid community is better resourced than at any other time. Now is the time to rise to the challenge set by the people of this country who have been so generous and who have such high expectations.

11.28 am

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): I, too, welcome the debate secured by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). Although I am speaking from the Back Benches, I am proud to be making my first parliamentary contribution as my party's junior spokesperson on international development. I have had an interesting journey. Probably like many of us, I was one of those campaigners who sent those now very annoying postcards that we receive in our inboxes all the time. At least I know that they work and that hon. Members and the Government sit up and take notice. I am not sure whether my staff share my passion for the postcards, as they are the ones who have to deal with them.
18 Oct 2005 : Column 210WH

I have another passion, which I share with the hon. Gentleman: music. I have also contributed in a small way to popular music. My musical career in no way emulated his successful one, and I have accepted that my career is now in this place rather than on the stage. Nevertheless, there is an interesting parallel. In this House and elsewhere, there is cross-party approval of certain types of music and certain bands, and a real passion. My only regret is that we have no representation in MP4—perhaps that may change.

On issues of such importance to Members on both sides of the House, we must as far as possible, to continue with the musical metaphor, sing from the same hymn sheet. What did the G8 summit at Gleneagles really achieve? I strongly disagree with some of the comments of the hon. Member for Hove (Ms Barlow). This is not a time to look at the Government's proud record, or at the fact that Bob Geldof gave the summit 10 out of 10. The Secretary of State for International Development said that 2005 is an extraordinary year for development, but not a single NGO would agree with that statement in any way, shape or form. I am afraid that we have seen a little too much back-slapping, and we have gone from that to back-pedalling. That is why I welcome today's debate.

I want to focus on what the G8 did not implement but should have implemented in order to respond in any meaningful way to the extraordinary Make Poverty History campaign. I was pleased to see the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire at the MPs' event in Edinburgh, as I was to see hon. Members from all parties in the Chamber. That was important. At the G8, not enough was done about aid, not a lot was done about debt, and trade was not even on the agenda.

Of the $50 billion of new aid promised, only $20 billion is new money and has been delayed until 2010. Debt relief of $1 billion has been promised, but leading NGOs acknowledge that $10 billion of relief is needed. Even the $1 billion of debt relief is largely conditional and the hon. Gentleman touched on that. On trade, not only did we not get an answer, the question was not even posed. There has been much discussion in the House about the importance of targets, and every member would sign up to the millennium development goals, yet world leaders are sitting and watching them go by.

To give some stark examples, research from the leading NGOs, CAFOD and Oxfam, has suggested that we will achieve the millennium development goal of universal primary education in sub-Saharan Africa not by the target of 2015, but by 2133. Will the number of people living on less than $1 a day be reduced by half by 2015? No, the goal is set to be achieved by 2150. Will the goal of reducing the mortality of infants under five by two thirds be achieved by 2015? No, it will be 2165. That is 150 years too late. Between 2003 and 2015, there will be 42 million infant deaths in developing countries worldwide. That is the price of inaction during the next few years. It has been said that $50 billion is needed every year to achieve the millennium development goals, not just a total of $50 billion, of which $20 billion is not new money, and only then by 2010. Who said that? Was it Oxfam, Save the Children or CAFOD? No; it was the United Nations and the World Bank.
18 Oct 2005 : Column 211WH

I return to the Make Poverty History campaign, because I have been a campaigner for much longer than I have been a Member of the House. We must all respond positively to that extraordinary coalition of hope, but there is a danger that it may become a coalition of disillusionment. I spoke at a recent event in Yorkshire and told campaigners not to give up, because we are listening and if they do their job and keep on our backs, we will do our job and keep on the Government's back. The Government can do their job by keeping on the backs of world leaders and the G8 to ensure that they deliver on the limited promises that were made and continue to push for those things that were not promised.

By any stretch of the imagination, 2005 has not been an extraordinary year for development. We have had a limited start, but I hope that through debates such as this we will do our bit to keep the subject on the agenda. It is then up to the Government to push for more and better, so that we can see some results. Perhaps then the millennium development goals can be achieved within 50 years, if not by 2015.

11.36 am

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) on securing this important debate. We do not have enough opportunities to debate such important issues and to ensure that we keep Ministers on their toes, to scrutinise promises made in various international forums, and to maintain the pressure not only on our Government, but on Governments throughout the world, and particularly in the G8. The hon. Gentleman, who for good geographical and constituency reasons had cause to follow closely what happened at the G8 in July, has a strong and established passion for the issue, which came across clearly in his opening comments.

The hon. Member for Hove (Ms Barlow) made some strong comments in support of the Government's commitment to Africa. I do not question the sincerity of Ministers or of the commitments that they have made. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) mentioned that the Secretary of State said that 2005 is an "extraordinary year for development". Perhaps he meant extraordinary from the point of view of our opportunities to progress the development agenda. In those terms, this year has been fantastic. We have had the G8 summit. The Government have shown their passion for moving the agenda forward during their EU presidency. The UN summit last month and the important world trade talks in December mean that this is a year of great opportunity.

However, I am worried by the issues that are at the core of this debate. We have to separate spin from substance. My hon. Friend described the back-slapping euphoria of Gleneagles. One can understand why Ministers from our Government and Ministers and leaders from the other countries involved wanted to respond to the passions of the millions of people involved in the Make Poverty History and Live 8 campaigns by saying, "We have gone a long way. On
18 Oct 2005 : Column 212WH
each headline issue of debt, aid and trade, significant progress has been made." Part of the difficulty is that when responding to that level of euphoria, passion and concern, politicians are tempted to overstate the case. As time has passed since the conclusion of the G8 summit, some of the euphoria has evaporated and some of the reassurances given have unravelled. As my hon. Friend said, we have woken up to find that not only are we at least a century away from meeting the millennium development goals, but a lot of the commitments made at the G8 summit are not quite what we thought they were. They certainly fall a long way short of where a lot of people think the development agenda should be. The impression was given that campaigners had forced world leaders to push the boulder to the top of the slope, and that because, following the world summit, poverty had been made history, it was just a question of pushing it down the slope.

I do not put aid at the top of the agenda for international development. I have always considered trade the most important element in making poverty history in developing countries in a sustainable way. The headline target for aid to developing countries during the last 30 years has been 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic product. Until this year, there was a commitment globally to contribute 0.3 per cent. in aid to developing countries by 2006, but we have not even reached that yet. The promises made this year—the year of Africa, following the Commission for Africa and the G8 summit—will push that global figure from 0.3 per cent. in 2006 to 0.36 per cent. by 2010. Although several countries' contributions may be increasing faster than others', the outcome of the process—of the euphoria, the efforts and the commitments made—is an increase of 0.06 of a percentage point over a four-year period. That is a realistic measure of the impact of that process.

On the basis that Africa generally receives about half of the aid that is budgeted for, the result of the efforts of the G8 summit in relation to aid can be summed up by saying that Africa will receive an increase in aid of 0.03 of a percentage point by 2010. Putting the matter in those terms, rather than quoting large figures in billions of pounds or dollars that are given over a particular period of time, puts it into context and helps to bring home to people that a great deal more work needs to be done than was apparent from the impression given in the press conferences following the G8 summit.

Many people followed the debate on the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria that took place in early September in London, which I am sure was very ably chaired. The result of that debate was that we fell well short of the replenishment targets. A figure of $3.5 billion was agreed on for the global fund, rather than the $7 billion target that was the aim.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): I am sorry to have arrived late, but I am fascinated by the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Does he remember that right at the end of the G8 summit, the focus was very much on governance? After the bombings in London that day, the issue seemed to disappear off the agenda. However, the last question at the last press conference was from a journalist who asked, "What are you going to do about the governance question?" Will the hon. Gentleman be
18 Oct 2005 : Column 213WH
good enough to elaborate a little on his thoughts on that subject? It is an area that seems to have been overshadowed.

Andrew George : The hon. Gentleman raises a reasonable point. There is a cross-party consensus that one cannot overlook the serious questions relating to governance. One can throw aid, debt relief and favourable trade arrangements at some countries, but the poor in those countries will not necessarily see any benefit unless the poor governance and corruption is sorted out.

I will move on to the claims made by the international community about governance and aid and the impact of some of the conditions attached by international organisations such as the IMF when aid budgets are delivered. I visited Kenya in early September, where attempts at delivering AIDS, HIV, tuberculosis and malaria programmes are severely constrained by the lack of trained nurses on the ground. There is clearly a capacity issue. However, in the agreement between the IMF and the Kenyan Government, a cap is clearly set on the appointment of civil servants by the Kenyan Government. Civil servants include health workers, teachers and others. When I asked health and government officials about appointing more nurses—there are trained nurses in the country who are unemployed—they explained that the problem was not capacity or potential; nor did they believe that there was a limitation in the longer term in terms of the aid that they could potentially draw down. The difficulty was that they were simply unable to appoint the number of nurses that they felt were required to deliver the programmes. We must be careful that, when offering assistance, we do not place artificial limits on countries' ability to deliver aid programmes.

I certainly do not deny the importance of ensuring that, at every stage of a programme, careful consideration is given to whether it is more effective to deliver the aid by bypassing the Government and using aid agencies—because of known corruption and the lack of capacity in the Government to manage those programmes—or whether it is better to go through the Government. That is a matter of judgment. I doubt whether the situation is helped by the cutting of desk officers at the Department and the withdrawal of commissions from Africa. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.

The promotion and protection of an open, independent media across Africa—an element that, despite efforts to include it, was omitted from the Commission for Africa report—could make a significant contribution to governance. If anything can ensure that, after parliamentary delegations have come and gone, there is a sustained campaign to hold Governments to account, it is a strong, effective, independent, robust and open media. The media do not necessarily have to be based in the states that need the changes the most, provided that they have the capacity to communicate across those countries. We should address that a great deal more.

The Minister might want to reflect on the opportunities offered by the trade talks to be held in Hong Kong in December. If we are going to make significant progress on making poverty history and meeting the millennium development goals in Africa,
18 Oct 2005 : Column 214WH
my party believes that one of the greatest opportunities will be provided by ensuring that there is an adequate trading relationship between the west and African countries. We should not insist on the economic partnership agreements pushed by the European Union, but instead ensure that we have more tailor-made approaches that allow for more pro-poor and pro-development trading arrangements. I think that the Government are sympathetic to that view. We need to make sure that such options are protected in the trade talks in December.

We also need to ensure that we can communicate with the millions of people who attended Live 8 concerts and Make Poverty History marches—I joined the one in Edinburgh. There needs to be more transparency in the trading relationships between multinational companies and developing countries in Africa, so that when people walk into their supermarket or sports shop, they can be reassured by the chief executive of those companies that their purchases do not contribute to the denigration of the very people whose poverty they have just been marching in order to make history. There are great challenges ahead, and a large number of questions have been raised. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response.

11.52 am

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): I add my congratulations to those of other Members to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) on securing this important debate at this vital time. He spoke with great passion and knowledge of the subject. However, I must confess that I do not agree with everything he said, and I certainly do not subscribe to his view that the main moral driving force behind aid budgets is some sort of reparation for colonial wrongs. There is a much more up-to-date moral force behind them.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Hove (Ms Barlow) on making an interesting speech. Her analysis of the pros and cons of the NGO movement deserves further consideration, and I hope that she will continue to contribute to debates on this important issue.

The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) delivered an extremely informative and knowledgeable speech, particularly on the millennium development goals and the clear failure of the international community to have even a vague semblance of a chance of meeting them by 2015, as was programmed. Indeed, it is apparent that in 70 countries to date, the millennium development goal targets for 2005 are not going to be met.

I am keen to put on the record that my party shares the aspirations of the Government as set out at the G8 meeting. We want the commitments made in Gleneagles to be implemented. We support the Government's target of 0.7 per cent. of GDP being spent on aid by 2013. We agree with the millennium development goals. We also support the Government in the HIPC initiative, as that has the potential to relieve the burden of debt on many African nations, as well as on countries elsewhere in the world, and not just on those 18 that have currently met the criteria. We also recognise that fundamental reform of the global trade
18 Oct 2005 : Column 215WH
rules is essential if Africa is to trade itself out of poverty, and we agree in principle with the initial international finance facility, with its specific focus on immunisation.

However, it is worth reminding the House of what was actually agreed at Gleneagles, as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire did. In addition to the doubling of aid and the aspirations for trade and debt, the G8 countries pledged to provide extra resources for conflict resolution; to enhance support for democracy and effective governance, as was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash); to stimulate growth and build trade capacity, and not only in the context of the WTO; and to boost investment in education and health, particularly in relation to HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. We must not lose sight of those other important issues as we focus on aid, debt and trade.

No previous summit has promised so much for the world's poor, and it is vital that the momentum be maintained. The Conservatives agree with the aspirations expressed, but it must be remembered that the key to success is in delivery. This debate gives us the opportunity to ensure that the countries of the G8 and the wider world fulfil their commitments to Africa. That is essential if we are to see a change in the continent's fortunes. The starting point is to ensure that the agenda agreed at Gleneagles is continued under the next G8 presidency. Can the Minister assure the House of Russia's commitment when it takes over the presidency to continue with the goals for Africa that were set out at Gleneagles?

Alongside the Government, we are committed to working towards the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent. of our national income on aid. It is essential, however, that that aid be used to its maximum potential. There is some evidence to suggest that UK bilateral aid has the potential to be more effective than much of the multilateral aid that is provided. Currently, a quarter of DFID's aid budget is allocated through the EU, which is widely recognised as one of the least effective channels: only 52 per cent. of the aid that goes through the EU goes to low-income countries.

Although we are aware of the additional aid announced at G8, we believe that quality of aid is just as important as quantity. The time scale over which that money is delivered and allocated is vital. If all the extra aid pledged were delivered now, it could lift 300 million people out of poverty in the next five years. However, as the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West rightly pointed out, the time scale for the delivery of that additional aid is slipping, and much of the money will not be received until the end of the decade. Will the Minster provide a clarification of the time scale for providing the aid money pledged at Gleneagles? Will he also outline the channels through which the extra aid will be spent and how much of it is proposed to be channelled through direct budgetary support?

The last Conservative Government led the world in providing debt relief for developing countries and I am pleased that the current Labour Government are continuing that course. Before the HIPC initiative, heavily indebted poor countries were spending more on debt servicing than on health and education combined. Eighteen countries have benefited from the HIPC
18 Oct 2005 : Column 216WH
initiative so far, and up to 38 could receive debt relief in future. However, that debt relief applies only to debt owed to the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund. What progress is being made to make sure that the countries that would benefit from debt relief get 100 per cent. relief, regardless of to whom the debt is owed? Furthermore, will the Minister clarify whether debt relief will be taken from existing overseas development aid budgets, despite previous commitments to cease double counting?

Debt relief is vital if African Governments are to have more money to spend on health care, education and infrastructure. However, the G8 debt deal will provide less than $1 billion extra this year for those vital facilities. Furthermore, questions have been raised about whether some African Governments are using this money for those vital services. Will the Minister assure the House that sufficient transparency and accountability mechanisms are in place to ensure that the money from debt relief is used specifically to alleviate poverty? Will the Minister also confirm that money from debt relief will be used in tandem to pursue meeting the millennium development goals?

Mr. Cash : Does my hon. Friend agree that for those of us who feel passionately about the African problem and the alleviation of poverty, the question of how much aid is given has to be paralleled by the extent to which there is a proper audit of how it is spent and where it goes? Is he aware of my International Development (Anti-corruption Audit) Bill, which would have requirements for external audits when there was any uncertainty within the mechanisms of the public accounts committees of the countries concerned about where money was going and whether it was being properly deployed? It does not matter how much money is provided if it is going to the wrong place and not being properly audited. I know that the Under-Secretary is interested in such matters and I should be grateful to know through my hon. Friend whether he is willing to make his views known.

Mark Simmonds : I am grateful for that intervention. I am aware of my hon. Friend's Bill. It is extremely interesting and deserves further consideration. It is fair to say that there is worry not only among Opposition Members, but at DFID, about the budgetary support mechanism. Furthermore, there is concern at DFID offices in Africa that the structures are not in place to ensure the degree of transparency and accountability needed to assure us that British taxpayers' money is being spent properly and effectively.

Andrew George : The hon. Gentleman is making an important point about accountability and transparency. Does he agree that we do not want to put in place in those countries complex systems that make it impossible for them to start running the aid programmes? When I was in Kenya, I saw that several aid programmes could not proceed because of the inability to appoint accountants to administer the required accounting arrangements. However, simple bookkeeping followed up by robust auditing would have been adequate at least to start the aid programmes.
18 Oct 2005 : Column 217WH

Mark Simmonds : The hon. Gentleman makes a fair and reasonable point. A balance must be struck between ensuring that British taxpayers' money is spent wisely and properly for the purposes for which it was intended and trying to encourage African Governments in particular to be responsible and accountable to their people. The balance between those two often contradictory facets is exactly what DFID needs to focus on in the coming period.

The G8 communiqué made a commitment to provide rapid and flexible multilateral and bilateral debt relief for post-conflict countries. Will the Minister explain exactly what that means, to which countries it applies and how it fits in with the HIPC initiative? Is it linked or is it separate? I welcome the progress of the G8 countries on debt relief, which promised $48 billion per year by 2010. However, according to Oxfam's figures, approximately $30 billion of that sum will be spent on debt relief specifically for Iraq, a point made by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire. Can the Minister confirm whether such a large proportion of the money pledged is, in fact, for Iraq? Are Oxfam's figures accurate?

If the Government are serious about implementing the G8 agenda for Africa, trade reform is fundamental. While aid and debt relief are essential, economic development, wealth creation and pan-African, as well as international, trade offer the best hope for long-term sustainable solutions to poverty and suffering in Africa. History is littered with protectionist folly. Further protectionism is not the answer, as is evidenced by foreign inward investment, export-driven economic growth in China and elsewhere in south-east Asia where, in the past 20 years, 500 million people have been lifted out of poverty.

Conservative Members believe in removing export subsidies and import tariffs. We are committed to a timetable for the dismantling of all trade-distorting agricultural policies by 2013. We recognise that the current policies of the United States and the European Union are damaging and immoral, and that they cause widespread suffering, particularly—although not exclusively—in Africa, as farmers cannot obtain a fair price for their crops. It is widely acknowledged that African cotton farmers are competing with the US Treasury, not US farmers, and that the EU spends billions of euros subsidising farmers. We welcome President Bush's recent pledge to cut farm subsidies by 60 per cent. over five years and to reduce import tariffs by between 65 and 90 per cent. Unfortunately, the G8 leaders failed to set a conclusive end date for those harmful export subsidies. Will the Minister make a statement today on what progress is made, especially within the European Union, as only this morning the international press published reports of intransigence in some European Union countries, which are insistent that extensive agricultural subsidies be retained? What progress does the Government realistically believe can be achieved at the WTO meeting in Hong Kong in December?

If Africa is to lift itself out of poverty, it is crucial that economic partnership arrangements are reassessed, the rules of origin are redrafted and tariff escalations by the developed world are minimised. International trading agreements are immensely complex, but it is essential that we have an international framework. If the WTO
18 Oct 2005 : Column 218WH
meeting fails, there is a danger that the whole international framework could start to unravel. Current trade restrictions are the biggest impediment to economic development and poverty reduction in the developing world.

There is no doubt that increased aid, reduced debt, and freer and fairer trade were the most high-profile parts of the G8 communiqué. However, the countries made further commitments which also must be implemented if African countries are to graduate from aid dependency to being fully functioning democracies with successful economies.

It is accepted that the millennium development goals will not be reached. In May, the Minister admitted in this Chamber that at the current rate of progress, the goal of free primary education for all will not be achieved until 2130—115 years late. I do not blame him personally for that target being missed—

Mr. Thomas : Thanks very much.

Mark Simmonds : The UN estimates that an extra $6 billion is needed to meet the target of free universal primary education alone. The world has already failed to meet the sole millennium development goal for 2005. Despite that, the G8 did not pledge any extra money to help the world to reach the targets. There needs to be a significant attempt to ensure additional aid, debt relief and increasing trade are used to make greater progress towards meeting the millennium development goals. During the G8 meeting, the nations made a commitment

Efforts such as these are crucial if Africans are to become safer. On a recent visit to Gulu in northern Uganda, I witnessed the night-commuters—20,000 children walking up to 17 km each way from their homes to sleep in the town of Gulu, so they are not abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army. The G8 countries promised to train 75,000 troops by 2010, to prevent such atrocities. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what progress is being made on that important front.

The Government will find Her Majesty's Opposition supportive of the G8 aspirations, but robust in ensuring delivery and holding the Government to account. We hope that they deliver on the promises that they and the other G8 members made at Gleneagles. There is still much work to be done, particularly in Hong Kong in December, if the G8 agenda is to be delivered and implemented.

12.7 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) on securing the debate and on giving us the opportunity to explore the G8 commitments and the progress that we have made so far.

Like other hon. Members, I saw the extraordinary outpouring of support for development expressed through the Live 8 concerts, the march that took place in Edinburgh, which my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for International Development and the Chancellor attended, and the Make Poverty History
18 Oct 2005 : Column 219WH
campaign. That helped to put development at the centre stage of 2005 in a way that we have not seen in this country since the Birmingham G8 summit, when the Jubilee 2000 campaign was very active. We are seeing progress, albeit considerable progress remains to be made.

The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) rightly reminded us about the scale of the challenge and how off track we are with many of the millennium development goals. More than 300 million people in Africa live on less than $1 a day, up from 227 million in 1990. Lack of employment opportunities and the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS are the causes of that rise in poverty. Those figures alone are a powerful reminder of the need to continue to focus on development and not to allow the momentum that has begun to be rebuilt in 2005 to fade away.

The Government remain determined to use the various opportunities available to us from 2006 onwards to ensure that the momentum of 2005 is not lost. We must remember that it was the Government's decision to put Africa at the heart of our G8 and EU presidencies that provided a focal point for the development of that momentum and the attention that it rightly received this year. Our commitment has also been demonstrated through hard cash. For the first time, we as a country have a target date to achieve the UN objective of spending 0.7 per cent. of our national income on development assistance. We spend nearly £1.25 billion of our development budget on Africa, and money for development and assistance has trebled. The fact that the Secretary of State for International Development has a seat in the Cabinet for the first time is a sign of the Government's continuing commitment to the development agenda.

I do not accept the point made by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire that momentum has somehow fizzled out since the G8 summit. The media may have moved on to other issues, but I have not felt any less busy since then or that the agenda is any less important, and neither have my colleagues in the Government. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the important UN millennium review summit, which provided an opportunity to capture the commitment of G8 leaders and the international community to the development agenda and to achieving the millennium development goals.

There is support for a peace-building commission and an international humanitarian fund—two visible signs of the continuing momentum. We hosted the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria replenishment conference, at which further resources for the fund were generated. That is an encouraging sign of continuing progress and momentum—although more resources are needed—as is the fact that the European Union is, under the auspices of our presidency, debating its relationship with Africa and how we can continue to support Africa, not only with hard cash, but on issues of governance and economic development.

I also disagree with the lament of the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West that no trade deal was done at the G8 summit. It was never going to be done at the G8 summit, because that is what the December World Trade Organisation talks are for. There was
18 Oct 2005 : Column 220WH
considerable debate among the G8 leaders on trade, especially about export subsidies. The hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, welcome being reminded that in our manifesto for the last general election, Labour made a commitment to push for the elimination of export subsidies by 2010; we continue to make that case. In addition to the WTO talks, and to keep the momentum going, there is the fast-track initiative conference in China in early December, which will provide another opportunity to galvanise international support and further resources for the provision of free primary education. Although, the media, sadly, moves on to other things, the momentum is anything but lost. I hope that there will be other opportunities for the media to return to these issues.

Andrew George : I have no wish to diminish the progress made this year, of which the Minister has just reminded us. He pointed out that the Secretary of State for International Development has a seat in the Cabinet, but is the sense of priority and proportion right? We give tens of millions of pounds to help those displaced by the conflict in Darfur—indeed, we may have given as much as £100 million over the past few years—but compare that to the £5 billion spent on the military operation in Iraq over the past three years, and the $10 billion internationally that goes into the humanitarian reconstruction in Iraq? Is the Minister satisfied that our commitment is proportionate?

Mr. Thomas : The Prime Minister's commitment to the development agenda is spot on. He has made it clear that he wants us to use the EU presidency to make a continued effort to secure the outcome that I expect we all want to see: a development round and progress in Hong Kong that helps to give the poorest countries of the world genuinely fair access to the world's trading markets.

The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) alluded to the fact that there is considerable debate in the European Union about how we achieve an outcome that is in the interests of developing countries and the rest of the world. Part of the reason for the Prime Minister's commitment to the EU presidency is that at the end of it, we must represent the EU at those trade talks. Several hon. Members have said that we need development and debt relief; however, we must have fairer trading rules if we want long-term, sustainable routes out of poverty.

Mr. Cash : I pay personal tribute to the Prime Minister and to the Secretary of State for International Development for focusing, as the Minister said, on that fundamental question, but I return to the issue that I raised when I spoke at the Jubilee 2000 campaign meeting in Birmingham and on other occasions with my good friend Bob Geldof: whether we can turn the issues into practical applications along the lines of the Bill that I proposed, and of which the Minister is aware. Without external audit, I am afraid that putting money into the system will not get it to where it needs to go, because of the corruption throughout some of those countries. Will the Minister be kind enough to concentrate for one moment on that question about governance? Will he support my proposals or not?
18 Oct 2005 : Column 221WH

Mr. Thomas : The hon. Gentleman will learn about the Government's response to his Bill later this week. I do not accept his premise that governance in Africa is uniformly bad and that corruption is endemic in every country. There are issues about governance, however, and at the heart of the Commission for Africa is the notion of partnership: developed countries have a responsibility to provide more aid; equally, developing countries, particularly in Africa, have a responsibility to ensure that the money is used well to reduce poverty.

Linked to the point made by the hon. Gentleman, I also do not agree with the tone—if I may say so—of the review of Africa by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire. The sense that Africa continues to be a basket case and continues not to make progress came across in his remarks. I accept his point that the international community needs to provide support in the cases of Niger and the southern African food crisis, and he knows about the considerable amount of money that we have put in.

We are seeing substantial progress throughout Africa already—not least the exciting sight in Burundi of a Government having taken a decision to abolish user fees, and hundreds and thousands of new children turning up to school wanting to learn, now that the barrier of being charged for education has been taken away. The international community has begun to provide support to increase the number of classrooms to train more teachers. In sub-Saharan Africa, women's parliamentary representation—this relates to governance—has doubled since 2000, which shows that further progress has been made. An extra 1 million children have been enrolled in schools in Kenya since the Government there took the decision in 2000 to abolish school fees. There is progress throughout Africa, and we must celebrate it, while recognising that considerably more must be done.

The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire asked me several specific questions about debt. Some 18 countries have qualified for the debt deal, and its implementation will begin in 2006. The deal is for 100 per cent. relief of the multilateral debt. Up to 38 countries could qualify, and that brings the potential total benefit to those countries to $55 billion. There is no new aid conditionality attached to the relief. Countries are simply required to reach the completion point under the HIPC initiative, which requires assurances that the money that is saved by no longer paying debt servicing is spent on poverty reduction. Additional resources will be provided to the World Bank and the African Development Bank to compensate them for the debt relief funds that will be needed.

The hon. Gentleman asked about conditionality more generally. As I said in my intervention on him, the Government have made it clear since March that our aid is not conditional on particular policies being followed by Governments. They must decide for themselves whether they want to privatise or use co-operative models or NGOs. It is for them to make the decision. However, we attach several safeguards in respect of how the aid money will be used. We expect the countries to have robust financial systems—that links to the point that the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) made about the need to have confidence that money is well spent. By way of slight deviation, the spending of money is already audited and monitored in many ways.
18 Oct 2005 : Column 222WH

The second safeguard is that the money must genuinely be used to tackle poverty. It must be invested in improving health or education, or on other priorities of the country. Thirdly, there must be respect for human rights in those countries.

Pete Wishart : I am sorry that the Minister characterised my summing up of the state of Africa in such a way. I was in the Democratic Republic of Congo this past summer and saw real progress towards securing democracy in that country. I recognise some of the great achievements that have been made on that continent.

I would like the Minister to address my point about IDA funding and resources for some of the HIPC initiative countries. Will there be an impact on the IDA funding for all the countries whose debt will be cancelled? If so, can he confirm that the amount that has been pledged for debt relief will be seriously diminished?

Mr. Thomas : IDA funding is a concessional arm of the World Bank. We are waiting for figures from the World Bank on the total cost of the debt relief package. We have a responsibility to make up the shortfall—we pledged to do that—and it will be one of the things for which we will be held to account.

The hon. Gentleman asked about conditionality employed by the World Bank. He may be familiar with the fact that, at our request, the World Bank reviewed its conditionality and agreed to a set of good practice principles on country ownership and allowing a developing country to make its own decisions. That is a good step forward. We will have to see how those guidelines work in practice, but we welcome the World Bank's move in that direction. I hope that the hon. Gentleman also welcomes it.

The concern of the hon. Member for Stone about good governance and corruption and the need to continue to address such issues was picked up by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness. As I indicated, Africa is already making good progress on good governance and corruption, albeit there are one or two high-profile exceptions to that trend. By the end of 2005, Kenya, Mauritius, Ghana and Rwanda will have completed the Africa peer review mechanism, which is an opportunity for African countries to review how their peers are making progress on the issues. By the end of 2006, Uganda, Nigeria, Algeria, Mali, Mozambique, Lesotho, Sierra Leone and South Africa will also have been reviewed by their peers—12 countries in all. We shall continue to work with national Governments to enhance transparency in the management of public resources and accountability in those countries. Domestically, we are hoping that by the end of the year Parliament will have ratified the UN convention on anti-corruption. Obviously, it is crucial that we play our part in further efforts to tackle corruption.

Let me come to the point that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire made about the opportunity to hold G8 leaders to account, and his interesting idea of a centre for G8 monitoring in Perthshire. The Africa Partnership Forum should, in our view, be the key body for monitoring the commitments of the G8, as it brings together key leaders from Africa and key players from the UK and elsewhere. Earlier this month, we hosted the
18 Oct 2005 : Column 223WH
fifth meeting of that forum. It was agreed that we should focus on G8 monitoring through a joint action plan. I hope that that will help to lay the foundations for an effective monitoring process. However, we welcome the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. As he will be aware, it is one of a number of proposals to bring in a wider audience to monitor implementation of G8 commitments. A series of civil society groups wants to get involved in that process. He may be familiar with the Archbishop of Cape Town's proposal for an African monitor arrangement, and might want to discuss with the Archbishop how their proposals sit together. The last thing that we need is duplication of monitoring arrangements.

Mr. Cash : The Minister knows that the centre of gravity of my thoughts is whether the audit will be

not excluding internal or external audit. That is the key issue. Does he agree that if internal audit does not work properly, external audit will become necessary?

Mr. Thomas : The debate on monitoring that the hon. Gentleman has kicked off is not unhelpful, but he needs to recognise that there is already considerable external audit, carried out, for example, by the National Audit Office. The International Development Committee monitors carefully how my Department spends its money.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Ms Barlow) was absolutely right to highlight co-ordination. In March, the development assistance committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development convened a meeting of all major donors to seek improvements in how donors operate within a country, so that duplication and the number of
18 Oct 2005 : Column 224WH
monitoring missions that donors inevitably institute in developing countries are reduced. For example, we know that there are huge numbers of monitoring missions on HIV and AIDS in developing countries. They inevitably use up valuable civil service and ministerial time and often ask very similar questions. If the international community can be persuaded to work together more effectively, we should be able to release time for civil servants and Ministers in developing countries, to get on with the business of improving health, tackling HIV/AIDS, improving education, and so on. At the same time, however, we should make sure that the right questions are asked about how the money is being used.

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to how non-governmental organisations operate on the ground, both in relation to the tsunami and with regard to long-term development. A number of NGOs work extremely effectively and in a very responsible way—one thinks of the Disasters Emergency Committee. It was clear from the tsunami and from long-term development work that some NGOs are not so responsible and could improve the way in which they operate.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire on convening this first formal opportunity for the House to consider progress since the G8, but I gently remind him that we are not at the end of 2005. We have always regarded the G8 summit as a key point on a journey to increase momentum towards the millennium development goals. We will not solve all of Africa's problems this year, but I hope and believe that we will make progress. We continue to be optimistic that we will secure a good deal for developing countries in the WTO talks. As he and others rightly say, we need to translate the commitment to more aid and debt relief into practical progress on the ground, through such things as universal access to antiretroviral drugs. We have continued to see progress, but we know that there is more to do. We look forward to playing a continued part in that process.
18 Oct 2005 : Column 223WH

18 Oct 2005 : Column 225WH

Next Section IndexHome Page