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International Development

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Liz Blackman.]

4.12 pm

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): I wish to begin by thanking all those who contributed to the White Paper that is the subject of today’s far too brief debate. I hope that those who take a careful note of what we say in this Chamber will recognise the desire on both sides of the House for more time to discuss these very important matters. I wish to thank Members on both sides of the House who have contributed to the White Paper, and the remarkable civil servants at DFID who wrote it. I also wish to thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for his unstinting support and guidance.

For me, the White Paper was the result of three years in this extraordinary job, years in which I have learned a great deal and reflected much on the causes of global poverty and what needs to be done to help so many of our fellow human beings to transform their own lives. The facts are painfully clear. It is a scandal—there is no other word for it—that we live in a world where every minute a woman dies in pregnancy or childbirth; where every day, dirty water kills 5,000 children; and where, every year, malaria claims 1 million lives, tuberculosis 2 million lives and AIDS 3 million lives. But for me, the greatest scandal of all is that that happens, not in a time of famine and global war, but in an age of unprecedented potential. It happens in a world eight times richer than it was 50 years ago.

That potential—the power of politics to change things, of economic development to transform lives, of scientific ingenuity to save lives, and of working together to make all this happen—is immense. But so are the challenges that we face as trade, technology, migration, climate change, terrorism and disease mould our world into a new shape.

As more and more people in the developing world move to towns and cities to try to improve their lives, where will the homes, the water, the sanitation, the public services and the jobs they will need come from?

As the world’s population increases by half as much again in the next two generations, how will we stop many of the as yet unborn from emerging into a life of grinding poverty? How will we cope with pandemics such as avian flu or severe acute respiratory syndrome that could spread right across the globe if they are not dealt with quickly? What will we do if rapid economic change, inequality and arguments over scarce resources result in violence? How will we deal with the effects of the climate change that is already upon us, never mind that which is yet to come? How will we deal with the rising sea levels, the floods, droughts, hurricanes and crop failures, or with the movements of people who will not stay still to drown or die of thirst?

The challenge is simply daunting, but as we contemplate the future, one thing is clear beyond doubt—without good governance we will not be able to defeat poverty, or climate change, or war, or famine. That is why we put good governance at the heart of this White Paper.

Good governance is important for all countries, but especially for those fragile states in which 300 million
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of the world’s poorest people live. In those states, corruption in often more prevalent, Government structures are weaker and violent conflict is more likely. I welcome yesterday’s International Development Committee report on conflict and development, which said that investing in the causes of conflict is much better, and much less costly in money or lives, than trying to pick up the pieces later.

Peace and security are the fundamental expressions of good governance. There cannot be any development in countries where there is conflict. That is why the UK has helped to build peace and security in Mozambique and Rwanda, for example. It is why we are doing the same in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan and Iraq, and why we are trying to secure peace in Darfur. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the humanitarian workers, to our staff and to local staff, to the people working for non-governmental organisations and to the soldiers of many nations for the courage and professionalism that they show in those most difficult of places.

We are going to increase our efforts in fragile states, and invest more in at least 10 countries where security is a major concern. We will help with reintegrating ex-combatants, and we will support access to justice and monitor human rights. We will try to reduce the spread of small arms, and that will include trying to win support for an international arms trade treaty.

Good governance is also about effective states that are capable of doing things for their people, and about creating the conditions in which economies can flourish so people can have the chance to earn a living. Effective states respond to what people want and need and, in turn, can be held to account. Good governance means that people have the right to choose their leaders and change them, and to have a say and to be heard. Good governance is about ensuring the rule of law. It is about good policing and upholding human rights and freedoms. It is about fighting the corruption that steals money that could otherwise be spent on buying medicines or on getting children into school. Corruption, we know, hits poor people hardest, and poor women most of all.

How does a society—any society—ensure good governance? What makes the difference is what people choose to do. They must demand that their Governments secure such things for them, and that is why we will go on helping Governments to build their capacity. We are setting up the governance and transparency fund so that Parliaments and civil society, the media, trade unions and those working to improve transparency and openness can be helped to hold their Governments to account.

That is why we want to continue to make sure that our aid money goes where it is intended. Our new governance assessments will help us to do that. They will help us to recognise when a country is improving and to determine what to do when there are problems. This approach will build on the three simple questions that we already ask of our partners—are they committed to reducing poverty, do they uphold human rights and international obligations, and are they fighting corruption and promoting good governance? Depending on the answers that we get, we will take decisions about the kind of aid that we give.

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Even where governance is awful, such as in Zimbabwe, we will not walk away, as that would be to punish poor people twice over—once for being poor, and a second time for having a lousy Government. The same is true for corruption. We need to be tough on it and on its causes, because the only solution is that countries must change the culture in which corruption thrives. They must enforce the law and implement the checks, the balances and the openness needed to guard against it.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): While I agree with every single thing that the Secretary of State has said so far, I invite him to consider the last comment that he made. One has to strike the balance between whether it is better to take a strong position or not. Surely we have to engage in a naming and shaming operation. This could come from external sources so that people in those countries know when things are going wrong. If we do not have proper external accounting arrangements, we will not be able to prove the point which will be followed by the naming and shaming.

Hilary Benn: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who has campaigned long and hard on this issue. I agree that naming and shaming—exposure, transparency—is the right approach to take, but I differ with him in that I think that the exposure has to come from within the countries themselves, because that is the only way to fix the problem in the long term. He is right about the power of that searchlight to change practice.

Governance is also an international issue. Bad governance can be caused or made worse by the actions of rich countries and their companies. For every bribe taken, there has to be a bribe giver; for every stolen dollar that is spirited out of a developing country, there has to be a bank account somewhere for it to go into. That means that we have to be more effective in stopping bribery and, where money is stolen, in finding it and giving it back. In August this year, the UK returned £1 million of assets to Nigeria seized by the Metropolitan police from the former governor of Bayelsa state. It is a start, but we can and must do more.

Our new anti-corruption action plan will help us to do that by investigating and prosecuting bribery cases, dealing with money laundering and recovering stolen assets with the help of the new police unit staffed by the Metropolitan police and the City of London police and partly funded by DFID. We will continue to promote the extractive industries transparency initiative and look to extend its principles to other areas of public procurement such as construction, health and defence, where we know that corruption is a problem.

We all know that economic development is the single most powerful way of pulling people out of poverty. It is the private sector, from farmers to street traders and foreign investors, who create growth, but Governments have to create the right conditions for that growth, and aid can help to do this.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I, too, agree with everything that the Secretary of State has said and I
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commend him for the work that he does. Does he agree that we could do much more to help the poorest people in the third world if we had control over our own trade policy? We could set an example to the rest of Europe and the world by taking away trade barriers that would help people to lift themselves out of poverty without insisting that they get rid of the barriers to trade into their country. Surely if we had control over our trade policy we could do far more to help than even the Secretary of State would like to see.

Hilary Benn: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that changing the world trade rules would make a real difference. I shall come on to that point in a moment. I part company from him when he says that the solution is for us to take back control over our trade policy. We need all the countries of the world to change the rules, not just Britain. That is why the White Paper commits us to supporting poor people in trying to get better access to markets to sell their goods. It is why we intend to double our funding for research to improve agricultural productivity, help countries adapt to climate change, and develop the drugs and vaccines that they need.

We will continue to press for a trade agreement to enable developing countries to earn their way out of poverty. Although the Doha talks are currently deadlocked, we are not going to give up on our attempts to create a freer and fairer trade system for developing countries because, as every single one of us knows, these talks matter. They are the best hope for developing countries to raise the money to pay for the doctors, the drugs, the hospitals, the teachers, the schools and the textbooks that they need.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow, North) (Lab): I, too, welcome the White Paper. On the subject of the world trade talks, my right hon. Friend will be aware that at the Hong Kong conference last year an agreement was reached for special measures for the poorest countries. In the light of the needs of the poorest countries, can he confirm that the EU—with which we are closely involved in negotiations—will implement that package unilaterally, given that the talks may be suspended for some considerable period?

Hilary Benn: Britain played an important part in pushing for that package; it has been agreed in principle and is fundamental to making progress. In truth, we will have to consider what to do if things remain stalled, but the best way to move them forward is to get agreement in the Doha talks and we intend to continue to push for that. We know that economic development has changed the lives of people in this country over the last 200 years, and it will do the same for people in developing countries.

That takes time, however. We need to help now so that everyone can see a doctor when they are ill, go to school, drink clean water and have a safety net when times are hard. With our aid rising to meet the UN 0.7 per cent. target by 2013, we will increase our spending on those public services to at least half our bilateral aid budget. We will make long-term commitments through 10-year plans so that countries can make long-term
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decisions. When my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I visited Maputo just before Easter, we said that we would put £8.5 billion into education over the next 10 years, so that the money that we and other donors commit can be put alongside the money that developing countries raise for themselves to match their plans to get children into schools, to employ teachers, to build classrooms and to buy textbooks.

There are practical problems, but we will do more on AIDS and maternal and child health. We have already committed to doubling our spending on water and sanitation in Africa by 2007 and to doubling it again by 2010, because clean water changes women’s lives. We will 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 small amounts of support are one of the most effective ways to help people out of the cycle of dependency.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): I hesitate to intervene because the Secretary of State is talking such obvious sense. The aims and objectives of which he speaks are of course enshrined in the millennium development goals, but to what extent is his Department addressing the issue of population growth in those countries? If a country’s population is growing at 3 per cent. a year, it needs 3 per cent. more schools, roads and hospitals, so to what extent is the right hon. Gentleman incorporating those issues in his thinking?

Hilary Benn: The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. Our most practical contribution is to provide a lot of support for reproductive health in developing countries, so that families, women in particular, have some choice about their fertility—partly through the provision of services and partly by women having a stronger position in their society. In the long term, as we all know, population growth relates to economic development; as societies develop economically and people feel safer and more secure, family sizes decline. Evidence from across the globe is clear on that point.

None of that will work if we do not deal with the ultimate test of global governance—climate change. That is the single greatest threat facing development today. The countries that did least to cause the problem face the biggest costs and consequences. Many poor countries are struggling to cope and they will need more energy if their economies are to develop. As the White Paper made clear, DFID will make action on climate change a priority, as the Environmental Audit Committee asked us to do in its report, published after the White Paper. That means helping poor people and poor countries to adapt to climate change, working to give developing countries access to clean technologies, including energy production, so that they can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions without damaging their economic growth. It means agreeing a stabilisation target and a new international framework to share out the earth’s finite environmental capacity. For all that we shall need international action and effective international institutions.

Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): The Secretary of State glossed over the report of the Environmental Audit Committee. As I am the only Member in the
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Chamber who participated in that report, I want to point out that climate change did not occur at the same time as the White Paper, and that the report to which the Secretary of State alludes is very damning indeed about DFID’s placing of the environment. Can the Secretary of State tell the House how many environmental advisers he plans to recruit to DFID to take forward his programme of incorporating climate change measures and aid?

Hilary Benn: We are indeed planning to recruit more staff and I shall be happy to give the hon. Gentleman the precise figures. The report made some criticisms, but it failed to give DFID credit for what we have done already and it failed to recognise what was in the White Paper—I was slightly surprised about that. Furthermore, at times the Committee’s report reads as though we were still a former colonial power running developing countries. We are not. They are in charge of their destinies and they have to be prepared to take things on. However, the Committee made many important points about why we all need to take the issue more seriously, and I greatly welcome the report in that respect.

We need international institutions that work, but the principal institutions of multilateralism—the UN, the World Bank, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund—were created for the world of two generations ago. We need international institutions that work effectively to meet the challenges of the 21st century. That is why we are pushing for reform in the UN, including through the high-level panel, and that is why we have led the argument for reform of the UN humanitarian system—with some success: there is a new humanitarian fund, so that when disaster strikes, the UN can get to work straight away. That is why I am holding back £50 million from the World Bank until I am convinced that it has improved its practices on conditionality, and why we want European aid to be more effective. I mean not just European Commission aid, but aid from all European countries, because almost all the increase in aid that will be promised before 2010 will come from Europe.

The list of challenges that I have set out is daunting enough, but the real question is whether we have the will, the hope, the courage and the belief to change things. History should encourage us to see that we do and we can, because we have made progress. In the past 40 years, life expectancy in developing countries has increased by a quarter. In the past 30 years, illiteracy rates have halved. In the past 20 years, 400 million human beings have been lifted out of absolute poverty. We are close to eradicating polio from the face of the earth, and there are three times as many people on antiretroviral drugs in sub-Saharan Africa as there were 12 months ago. Is that enough? No. Is it progress? Yes.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Hilary Benn: Yes, but for the final time, because I want to wind up my speech.

Andrew Selous: I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State, who has been most generous in giving way. To take him back to what he said about the
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United Nations and climate change, does he agree that there is a case for rewriting the UN charter, so that alongside the three pillars of the UN—development, human rights and the prevention of conflict—there is a fourth on the prevention of climate change? That should be one of the key overall objectives of the United Nations, which is the only body with the international moral authority to deal with the issue.

Hilary Benn: I agree with that sentiment. The UN, like any other institution, must adapt to a changing world. Much time and energy would be involved in trying to get agreement on a change to the charter, and it would be a matter of tactics, but I am absolutely with the hon. Gentleman on the principle of making the UN take climate change more seriously, as my remarks have demonstrated.

In the end, the issue is whether progress is made, and whether we make a difference. I think that, with the help of other countries, Britain and its money, ideas, effort and politics are helping to change things. Very soon, the international finance facility for immunisation will be launched, and it aims to save 5 million children’s lives over the next 10 years. The debt cancellation agreement for which many people fought so hard at Gleneagles has already wiped out the debts that 20 of the world’s poorest countries owed to the IMF, the World Bank and the African Development Bank. Zambia can now provide free health care in rural areas because of that deal. Our education funding in India has enabled 9.5 million children to go to school for the first time. In Kenya, we are distributing 11 million insecticide-treated bed nets, and that could save 167,000 children’s lives. That is practical action that makes a difference.

Each of those examples, and many others, show that when human beings bring together the hope, the courage, the will and the belief, we are capable of transforming our lives. That is what people in Edinburgh marched for, and what people campaigned for. That is what we are in politics for, so let us get on and do it.

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