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Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, East) (Lab):
I welcome the White Paper and know that my right hon. Friend is aware that some of the most fragile states in
the world are in the Pacific region. The declining UK diplomatic representation in the south Pacific, among some of the most pro-British small nations in the world, is a matter of great regret to those peoples. Will my right hon. Friend consider what additional aid can be given to the poorest Pacific islands, which are facing tremendous problems of poverty, remoteness and climate change?
Hilary Benn: We no longer have the programmes in the Pacific region that we had in the past, principally because we are focusing our effortsrightly, in my viewon the poorest countries of the world. However, we continue to contribute to those Pacific countries through our contribution to the multilateral agencies. Just because we do not have a bilateral programme does not mean that we are not providing them with support; we are.
Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): The Secretary of State reminded us that the millions of people who die from AIDS, TB and malaria do so as a result of poverty. Is it not also the case that they do so as a result of weak health care systems in developing countries? What balance has he struck between delivering vital drugs through the health care systems of those countries and through non-governmental organisations? Is it not a concern that, if the health care systems remain weak, vital drugs to treat entirely curable diseases such as TB will continue not to reach the people who need them?
Hilary Benn: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. That is why long-term commitments of support to enable developing countries to build their health services are needed. One benefit of a rising aid budget and a 0.7 per cent. commitment is that we can enter into more long-term arrangements with Governments. If they know that they have money coming in, from our contributions and from debt relief, they can plan to train nurses, build clinics and buy drugs that will help to beat those diseases.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): The work of my right hon. Friend and his colleagues on this important issue is a source of pride to all Labour Members. In recent weeks, I have visited a number of schools to pick up buddies that they have made as part of the Make Poverty History campaign. Those young people send the message to me that they want to make poverty history, but they do not want the aid that we provide to have strings attached. Through the White Paper, will my right hon. Friend engage with those schools to foster their interest and support for the Make Poverty History campaign, and make sure that the only strings attached to aid are to ensure that it gets to the people who need it most?
I spent some time visiting schools and an impressive group of young people from Tower Hamlets came to the House today to talk about these very issues. We have moved away from economic policy conditionality, because it was the wrong approach. I am unapologetic, however, about asking whether Governments are committed to reducing poverty,
whether they uphold transparency and good governance, and whether they will ensure that the money is used for the intended purpose. People expect us to ask those questions, and I have no reluctance about taking decisions on the way in which we give aid on the basis of the answers and our assessment. Ultimately, it is about ensuring that the money that we give makes a difference to people on the ground.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for his excellent statement. One way of alleviating poverty in the developing world is to allow farmers in those countries access to the more developed markets of western Europe and north America. What progress is being made in that area at present?
Hilary Benn: The short answer is, not enough. Despite the agreement reached in Hong Kong in December to end export subsidies by 2013, which would help the agreement on aid for trade, we are stuck on the central question of access to agricultural markets, with the three big groupsincluding the larger developing countries, the United States and the European Communityall saying that they have made a good offer and will not move unless others do so. However, that is the key to unlocking opportunities for prosperity for farmers and others in developing countries, and that is why we must keep up the pressure to try to break the logjam and give them the chance that they wantto trade their way to a better life.
John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement and look forward to reading the White Paper. In his statement, he mentioned that everyone should have decent health care and education. Last year, my all-party Nigeria group saw derelict buildings that had once been schools or hospitals where no sustainability had been built into the system to ensure that they continued. What does he intend to do to ensure that money that is invested continues to be invested in years to come?
Hilary Benn: One of the legacies of badly given aid is that donors turned up and built schools and clinics, and went away and said, Hey, we have brought something good to the community. However, there was never any connection to the capacity of the Government of that country to fund and put in staff to maintain the buildings. In the right circumstances, therefore, the best approach is to work with Governments to build their capacity so that they can plan on the basis not only that they will build the school, but that they have the money to employ the teachers, do the maintenance, provide the supplies and make sure that the children are educated.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP):
I very much welcome the right hon. Gentlemans recent announcement of an Africa compliance panel. As he knows, I have called for that for the past year. I only hope that the panel might be based in Perthshire. What action or sanction will be taken if G8 commitments are
not met? What more can be done to ensure compliance with G8 commitments among the international community?
Hilary Benn: The Prime Minister set up the Africa progress panel to increase the political pressure on all of us, both developed and developing countries, to make sure that we honour our promises. It will be chaired by Kofi Annan. It is about keeping up the political pressure, which, along with political leadership, enabled the commitments on aid, debt relief and other matters that have been implemented over the past 12 months to be achieved at Gleneagles last year. Only by keeping up that pressure will we achieve what the hon. Gentleman wants.
Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): I warmly welcome todays White Paper. I share my right hon. Friends recollections of the activities of the previous Government, which were not as portrayed by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell). My right hon. Friend mentioned UN reform, including central pooled funding and a single plan in each country. Will he expand on that and indicate what further reform he would like in the UN?
Hilary Benn: To take a practical example, in Vietnam, from memory, there are 11 different UN agencies with a budget of about $2 million all pursuing their own objectives. The truth is that the UN should get its act together. Having a single pool of funding in country, with one office, one plan and one person to lead it, would be sensible. That issue and the question of whether central pooled funding should be introduced in the UN development system generally are now being considered by the high level panel on which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor represents us. I very much hope that that will produce a report in the autumn that recommends such change, which could ensure that the UN development system is more effective.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): Well done to the Secretary of State for his commitment, stewardship of the Department and this White paper. Well done to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) for helping to ensure that international development now has the priority and budget that it always deserved. From talking to colleagues on the continent, it is clear that environmental issues are still a higher priority for them than development issues. How will the Secretary of State ensure that G8 and European Union presidencies will give development issues the same priority as in this country?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. We must make the case that poverty will not be beaten in the developing world unless there is economic development, which must be sustainable economic development. If the rich world thinks that it can turn to the poor world and say, You know the benefits that we had from economic growthyou cant have them, because the world cant cope, the poor
world will turn round and say, Were not having that. We must share out the earths environmental carrying capacity on a more equitable basis. That is the fundamental political problem with natural resources and CO2 emissions. The second argument is that, unless we do that, we will not have a safe and secure world to inhabit, wherever we happen to call home.
Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): I join other Members in warmly welcoming the statement and White Paper. We are all painfully aware that making poverty history is not about quick fixes but long-term commitment and determination. With that in mind, I am pleased by the commitment to development education, the commitment on UK groups building links with developing countries and the expansion of opportunities for young people, especially from diaspora communities, to work in developing countries. What steps are my right hon. Friend and his colleagues taking to ensure that those initiatives are adequately resourced? In particular, what steps will he take to ensure that local authorities have the resources, encouragement and powers to ensure that those initiatives become reality?
Hilary Benn: First, we are increasing funding. We already have a programme to support development education in our schools. It is not just a question of money, but of attitude of mind. I have been to many schools that are using the opportunity of citizenship educationand of studying geography and other subjectsto make sure that the generation growing up understand more about the world of which they will be part. The truth is that they will be taking decisions about the future of our planet when most of us have long gone. It is therefore right and proper that we give them the skills and understanding that they need to make their way in the world and to take the right decisions for the future of our planet.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Zimbabwe was once a great African country with a first-class agricultural system. It has now become a total disaster, with an evil corrupt dictatorship not just persecuting its poorest people, but regularly stealing aid money. How can Britain and Europe make sure that the starving, helpless and poor of Zimbabwe are helped without further bolstering the Swiss bank accounts of Mugabe and his henchmen?
Hilary Benn: I agree with the hon. Gentlemans assessment of Zimbabwe, which provides a spectacularly bad example of governance. Zimbabwe has suffered above all from a failure of governance over the past 25 years. What do we do? We continue to help feed people through the World Food Programme. We do not give money directly to the Government of Zimbabwe. We have an AIDS programme, because HIV and AIDS are a big problem in Zimbabwe. We work through non-governmental organisations and others. That is a very good example of our determination as a Government to give our aid in different ways according to our judgment of the circumstances, so that the poor of Zimbabwe are not punished because they have a bad Government and we continue to play our part in helping them.
Mr. Michael Wills (North Swindon) (Lab): I welcome the White Paper, and pay tribute to all the efforts of my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on behalf of the worlds neediest people.
Mention has already been made of the iniquitous and unfair world agricultural trading system. I know that the Government have led efforts to reform it, but will my right hon. Friend expand on what pressure he and his colleagues will exert on the other European Union members and the United States in the crucial next few days to bring about the reforms that are so desperately needed, and to make all the other admirable policies work to full effect?
Hilary Benn: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words and especially for what he said about my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who does a wonderful job in supporting me and the Departments work.
Our principal argument must be that if we are serious about fighting poverty, we need a trade deal. We must persuade people to turn the words that they utter when they make speeches about the importance of that into policies for trade negotiators that will allow progress to be made.
Europe contains many different countries and agriculture is more important in some than in others. A political debate is taking place about the extent to which Europe should move, but no one should doubt that, if we pass up this opportunity now, we will probably miss the single most important step that we could take at this point to fight world poverty.
Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that Africa possesses incredible tourist attractions in its history and natural beauty, yet fails to realise its assets. That is partly because of poor facilitiespoor transport, for instancebut also because of the negative messages that emerge from African countries. People do not think that they should visit Africa, and they do not know what they are missing. What can the Government do to help those countries promote tourism in their areas?
Hilary Benn: I have described the steps that we will take and the work that we are already doing to help countries improve their governance. The best way to put tourists off is to have a war, because no one will visit a country in those circumstances. If there is insecurity or conflict on the streets or a problem involving corruption, people may choose to go elsewhere.
As the hon. Gentleman suggests, we must also enable people to see Africa in all its complexity. The same applies to other developing countries. Africa is not one continent; it is 54 countries. Ghana, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa are making real progress, and many people visit those countries. We want people to visit as tourists, we want people to invest and we want people to trade, because ultimately that will bolster the countries economies and provide the money that they need to invest in saving peoples lives and educating children.
Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): Like others, I strongly endorse the Secretary of States commitment to good governance and transparency. Can the Secretary of State reassure us that his Department will cease to double count debt cancellation as aid expenditure?
Hilary Benn: With respect, we do not double count debt cancellation as aid expenditure. The Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development does the counting. It produces the overall figures and identifies aid and debt cancellation separately.
I resolutely reject the argument that debt cancellation does not help. Why will Nigeria be able to send another 3.5 million children to school? Because it has benefited from the biggest single debt deal in African history. Why has Zambia been able to introduce free primary health care in rural areas? It is because of aid and debt cancellation.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Vera Baird): With permission, I wish to make a statement about the publication of Lord Carter of Coless Review of Legal Aid Procurement, following a statement by my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs in the other place earlier today. Copies of Lord Carters review have been placed in the Printed Paper Office, the Vote Office and the Libraries of both Houses. A joint consultation paper on his proposals has been issued simultaneously by the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Legal Services Commission, copies of which have also been placed in the Printed Paper Office, the Vote Office and the Libraries.
Lord Carters report is the product of a year of engagement between a number of stakeholders. The Government, the Legal Services Commission, the Law Society, the Bar Council and the judiciary, individual practitioners and others all played a full part in the discussions that led to his recommendations.
In his report, Lord Carter identified the importance of publicly funded legal services to ensuring proper access to justice for those in need of advice and representation, and for those who are charged with criminal offences. He rightly refers to the high quality of our legal system.
At a time of finite public resources and ever-increasing pressure on the legal system, it is vital that we review our arrangements for the provision of legal aid. For some time, under successive Governments, they have not fully served either the public or the clients of the system. Changing the way in which we purchase legal advice services is a key element of our desire to reform the criminal justice system and provide better outcomes in civil and family justice. I know from experience the difficulty of balancing all the competing factors to ensure that legal aid is fair to the vulnerable, fair to taxpayers, fair to defendants and fair to practitioners.
Lord Carter concluded that there must be a fundamental change in the way in which legal aid services are procured, so that clients have access to good quality legal advice and representation, so that a good quality, efficient supplier base thrives and remains sustainable, so that the taxpayer and the Government receive value for money, and so that the justice system is more efficient, effective and simple. He recommends a new system for the provision of criminal legal aid in which the professions ensure proper quality control over their members and lawyers are as far as possible paid on the basis of completion of a case rather than according to the number of hours for which they have worked, and are encouraged to be as efficient as possible by being able to compete for work on the basis of price.
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