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Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): Please will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on human rights abuses in China, and specifically the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners? The right hon. Gentleman might be aware of the forthcoming publication of a report, co-authored by a former Cabinet Minister from Canada, on the horrific practice of organ harvesting, and the shocking details of human rights abuses contained in that report surely demand the attention of this House and wider debate.

Mr. Straw: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the human rights report published by the Foreign Office, which gives details of the representations that the British Government are making on human rights in China. Meanwhile, I urge him, if he wishes to do so, to table a question on this issue for Foreign Office questions on Tuesday week.

Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): I am sure that the Leader of the House appreciates the importance of schoolchildren being able to visit this House, and that he will be delighted to know that a group from Morecambe high school are here today, seeing the workings of Parliament. Will he join me in thanking the education unit for all its help and, indeed, Virgin Trains for making it possible for schoolchildren from the north-west to come here? However, can he also tell me what we can do to improve facilities—and, indeed, when the visitors’ centre will be ready—so that we can make the public most welcome in this House?

Mr. Straw: I commend my hon. Friend for her initiative in organising the Morecambe high school trip, and Members from all parts of the House. This kind of involvement by young people in the workings of Parliament and of politics is of profound importance if we are to maintain and develop interest in our democracy. Such trips are not just about having a day out; they are about something much more profound. A good experience in this House can live with people for the rest of their lives. The education unit and Virgin Trains deserve great approval. Following decisions made by this House on recommendations of the late Robin Cook and my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), who is now Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, big changes and improvements in the way in which visitors are treated in this House are under way, and the visitors’ centre—which will be a huge improvement—will be opened later in the year.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): What does the Leader of the House think of the proposal of the Hansard Society in its document, “The Fiscal Maze: Parliament, Government and Public Money”—of which he was sent a copy—for experimental financial audit sub-committees to be set up for some of the main Departmental Select Committees, so that there can be greater scrutiny of estimates and public expenditure?

Mr. Straw: It is a very interesting report—I have read it—and, as with all other Hansard Society proposals, it will be taken seriously. I will consider this
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recommendation with Government colleagues and will reach a considered view. Of course, because this is all-party, and it is the Hansard Society, we take it seriously.

Mr. Ian Austin (Dudley, North) (Lab): May I tell the Leader of the House how important I think it is that we have an urgent debate on the utterly disgraceful, anti-British, unpatriotic proposal to ban MPs from some parts of this country from voting in this House?

Mr. Straw: I agree. The Conservatives might have decided not to use one of their Opposition days on this matter because of real concern among many of their wiser right hon. and hon. Members about the implications of this two-tier system, which would lead inexorably to the break-up of the United Kingdom. Let me say as an Englishman that, yes, the United Kingdom has benefited all the four nations of the United Kingdom, but it was basically an English idea and it is England that would suffer the most if the Union were to break up.

Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford) (DUP): Will the Leader of the House urgently set aside Government time to discuss the plight of the families of the disappeared who were murdered by Sinn Fein-IRA and how best we can assist them in real and practical terms, as well as putting pressure on Sinn Fein-IRA to give the Police Service of Northern Ireland the locations of the murdered missing people so that they can have a proper burial and this nightmare can be brought to an end once and for all?

Mr. Straw: I will certainly pass on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland the hon. Lady’s very great concern, which we all share, about the plight of the disappeared and the need for a continuing spotlight to be put on Sinn Fein-IRA for their responsibility for what happened to these people.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House reflect on the fact that today, Sir Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, published his annual report, in which he expresses dismay at the volume and mishandling of a great deal of personal data? I suffered from the unlawful disclosure of so-called personal data about me, which were subsequently acknowledged to be wholly untrue. That underlined the need for this House to examine the workings of the Data Protection Act 1998 to see whether it should be improved, particularly so that people who are wrongly traduced can know who the authors of that calumny are.

Mr. Straw: I understand my hon. Friend’s concern and I am, of course, very familiar with the case that he mentions. We always need to improve procedures where we can, but I should point out that, had it not been for the 1998 Act, which was one of the very first that I introduced in this House as Home Secretary, none of us would have any right to know what data are held about us.


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Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): May I return to the question of party funding? I have already highlighted how various constituency Labour parties are breaking the law, specifically section 5 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which requires that constituency parties declare income of more than £25,000. According to written answers, 308 Conservative and 76 Liberal Democrat associations declare their accounts, but only 24 constituency Labour parties do. I was intrigued by the advertisement in today’s edition of The Times, which purports to be from 28 individuals who say that they are

They may be proud but, according to the Electoral Commission’s website, fewer than half of them have declared their donations to the commission.

Mr. Straw: That might be because of the size of the donation. I would not advise the hon. Gentleman to mix it on this matter. If he has any complaints, he should refer them to the Electoral Commission; meanwhile, he should not judge the Labour party by the standards of the Tory party. I think that there is probably a reason why not many Labour party constituency associations are declaring that they have an income of more than £25,000—it is because they do not have an income of more than £25,000.


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International Development

12.32 pm

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the White Paper on International Development that I am publishing today. Copies of it, and of this statement, have been placed in the Vote Office.

At a time when the world has never been richer in wealth and knowledge, pregnancy and child birth claim the life of a woman every minute. Every day, dirty water and bad sanitation claim the lives of 5,000 children. Every year, malaria kills 1 million people, tuberculosis 2 million people, and AIDS 3 million people. Each death is a death caused by poverty.

Last year, the world came together and agreed to do something to change that. The G8 summit at Gleneagles promised more aid and debt cancellation, support for free education and health care, treatment for all with HIV/AIDS, and better ways of dealing with conflict. We have made progress in the past 12 months, but we have not yet made poverty history. There is still much to do, and this White Paper sets out our plans for the next five years. In preparing it, we received more than 600 submissions from around the world, and I would like to thank Members and their constituents, as well as many others, for their contributions.

How countries progress and improve the lives of their citizens is a complex process, but we know that governance is fundamental to it. Development does not happen without effective states that are capable of delivering services to their citizens and helping economies to grow—states that respond to people’s needs and which, in turn, can be held to account. For all those reasons, good governance is at the heart of this White Paper.

While we will continue to help build public institutions’ capacity for good governance in developing countries, we will now do more at the grass roots to reinforce the demand for good governance. To do this, we will set up a new £100 million governance and transparency fund, which will support civil society, a free media, parliamentarians and trade unions in improving accountability. To ensure that our aid is used to best effect, we will in future regularly assess the quality of governance and transparency and the commitment to reducing poverty in the countries in which we work. We will publish these assessments and use them to help make decisions about our aid.

Recognising that bad governance and corruption are international problems, too, we will: publish an annual UK action plan to tackle corruption affecting developing countries, and report on progress every six months; set up a new unit to investigate money laundering and allegations of bribery affecting UK firms; help developing countries to track assets and to carry out investigations; seek to expand—including through a resolution in the United Nations General Assembly—the successful extractive industries transparency initiative to other sectors such as construction, procurement and health; and work with others to set international standards to tackle the trade in conflict resources that fuels so much destruction. We will also strengthen implementation of the
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Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s guidelines with new arrangements for the UK contact point, involving independent experts.

People cannot escape poverty if there is war and insecurity. We will therefore increase our efforts in fragile states and invest more in at least 10 countries where security is a major issue. That will mean help with reintegrating ex-combatants, supporting access to justice, monitoring human rights and reducing the spread of small arms, including through an international arms trade treaty.

Peace and good governance are also essential for the economic growth needed to create jobs and raise incomes. We will support the Infrastructure Consortium for Africa—which has already helped to secure investment of £1.4 billion in a range of projects—and the investment climate facility. We will double our funding for research in science and technology, agriculture, adapting to climate change and new drugs and vaccines. We will help poor people to get better access to markets to sell their goods, and to finance to support their livelihoods. We will also continue to press for a trade round that enables developing countries to earn their way out of poverty, while meeting our pledge to provide £100 million a year in aid for trade by 2010.

Everyone should have decent health care, education, water and sanitation, and social security when times are hard, and UK aid is already helping Governments to bring those to more of their citizens. With our aid rising to meet the UN 0.7 per cent. target by 2013, we will increase our spending on these public services to at least half of our bilateral aid budget. We will make long-term-commitments through 10-year plans, so that countries can make long-term decisions to hire staff, build schools and clinics and abolish user fees.

We will increase spending on education to £1 billion a year by 2010 and, having doubled our spending on water and sanitation in Africa to £95 million a year by 2007, we will double it again by 2010, because clean water saves lives and helps more girls to go to school. We will also significantly increase our spending on social security in at least 10 countries in Asia and Africa over the next three years, because we know that one of the most effective ways to break the cycle of destitution that affects the poorest and most vulnerable is to give them a hand up to get them back on their feet.

All that will need to be done in a world that is changing—in which there is population growth, rapid urbanisation, the depletion of natural resources and climate change. That will be the ultimate test of global good governance, so we will work to secure international agreement on a long-term stabilisation goal; seek to ensure that developing countries are able fully to participate in any international negotiations; and support countries in adapting to climate change while generating the investment needed for clean energy.

We will also need an international development system fit for this century, not the last. We will push for reform of the United Nations, so that there is centrally pooled funding and a single plan in each country; an integrated UN humanitarian system that responds faster when crisis strikes; further reform of European
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aid, so that the European Union can play its full part in international development; and a better system for holding all of us—developed and developing countries alike—to account for the promises that we have made.

Finally, because this is a task for all of us, but particularly for the next generation, we will double our investment in development education so that every child in the UK has a chance to learn about the issues that shape their world. We will set up a new scheme to help UK groups to build links with developing countries and expand opportunities for our young people and diaspora communities to volunteer in those countries and to undertake internships with development charities.

Madam Deputy Speaker, there is much for all of us to do. We have listened to the voices of people in developing countries, who have told us all what they want. We listened to the British people as they campaigned to make poverty history and, with their and the House’s support and the proposals I am setting out today, the UK will play its part in helping people to eliminate poverty and to change their lives, and thus our world, for the better.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for his customary courtesy in giving us advance sight of his White Paper this morning and of his statement on it. The whole House will understand that it is a White Paper of more than usual importance—not only to the hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, of our fellow citizens in Britain who care very deeply about these matters, but also to those living in a dangerous world where poverty and conflict breed anger and deep disaffection. We must demonstrate that Britain has the determination and the leadership to make the contribution that both our self-interest and our moral duty demand.

I very much hope that the Secretary of State will feel that he draws strength from the fact that this is not a Labour or a Conservative agenda, but rather a British agenda. All mainstream parties in Britain are committed to the 0.7 per cent. target by 2013. On this side of the House, we are as determined as the Government to ensure that the British contribution to lifting the living standards of the poorest, combating disease and illiteracy, promoting good governance and improving multi-national institutions is effective and successful. We may have differences of opinion about how best to deliver some of the noble aims and objectives set out in the White Paper, but those aims and objectives have our wholehearted support.

We look forward now to studying the White Paper and note that the House will have an opportunity to debate it next Thursday. At this early stage, I should like to ask the Secretary of State a number of questions. First, he has said that good governance is at the heart of his White Paper. We acknowledge the steps that the Government have already taken, building as they have on the foundations laid by Chris Patten, Lynda Chalker and the last Conservative Government, but more needs to be done. I am pleased that the Secretary of State has said today that he will in future regularly assess the quality and transparency of government. I would like to ask him, though, what form that monitoring will take, who will do it and, most importantly, whether it will be independent of his Department?


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Secondly, the Secretary of State mentioned in respect of good governance a new unit to investigate money laundering. That is of interest to other Departments and agencies of the Government, so what discussions has he had with colleagues to ensure that the process is properly joined up and co-ordinated?

Thirdly, the Secretary of State has rightly spoken up for an international arms trade treaty, but he will be aware of the deeply disappointing conclusion and lack of progress at the recent international conference. What is he doing to re-energise this important effort ahead of the UN General Assembly later this year?

Fourthly, the Secretary of State set out his plans to spend more in fragile states, but how does he intend to ensure that such help gets through to the most needy on the ground? What steps will he take to work through deeply committed and effective non-governmental organisations such as Oxfam, working, for example, in Darfur? The shadow Foreign Secretary and I recently saw the work it does there.

Fifthly, the Secretary of State spoke of the importance of securing a successful trade round that enables countries to earn their way out of poverty. He will know that the next few days are critical in persuading the key parties to the talks to give a little more to avoid the calamity of failure. What steps are the Secretary of State and, in particular, the Prime Minister taking to reinvigorate the negotiations in the margins of the G8 and beyond? Do not recent developments in China and India, where millions have been lifted out of extreme poverty, demonstrate that access to markets and trade are a vital component of prosperity?

Sixthly, the Secretary of State rightly spoke of the need to update and reform the international institutions on which international development depends. In particular, he mentioned the United Nations. In my experience, it is an organisation that attracts people of the highest calibre and idealism—people like Mark Malloch Brown, the Deputy Secretary-General—but it is floundering because of an outdated organisational structure. What ideas does the Secretary of State have to make the much-vaunted “responsibility to protect”, enthusiastically embraced by all nations at the UN summit last year, meaningful to people suffering in Darfur, Burma or Zimbabwe? How far should it impose on the international community a responsibility to intervene?

In his statement, the Secretary of State mentioned future reform of EU aid. As he knows, we have reservations about the fact that aid channelled through the EU does not always reach the poorest or those who most need our support. What can he tell the House about his plans for leading such reform within the EU, which would bring EU aid closer to the ideal that we both share?

The Secretary of State has made clear the potentially disastrous effects of climate change, particularly for the developing world, whether in the deserts of Africa or the flood plains of Bangladesh, which I am visiting on Monday. Will he tell us what structural changes his Department is making to address that problem and the interface between development and climate change?


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