Previous Section Index Home Page

Indeed, it is estimated that the Department’s work lifts 3 million people out of poverty every year. I put that evidence before the House not out of complacency or false pride, but out of determination that the Department should build on its success in the years ahead to help more of the world’s poor. We must do so with an informed understanding of the challenges facing us at the start of this young century—migration, climate change, conflict, and of course disease, which we have already mentioned.

The White Paper “Eliminating world poverty: making governance work for the poor”, published just over a year ago, sets out how we will tackle global poverty in a changing world—a world in which, each year, more than 190 million people leave their shores in search of a better life; in which climate change is not a theory, but a fact of life for many struggling with floods, drought and crop failures; in which scarce resources threaten to spark new conflicts; and in which disease can spread rapidly across continents.

Later, I will talk about the contribution that the international community can make in helping the world’s poorest people to tackle those challenges, but what happens within their borders is critical to their future. That is why good governance was at the heart of the White Paper. Good governance is about building effective states that are capable of providing political stability, rules and services for their citizens, that respond to what people want, and which are accountable to them. Every society will, of course, reach good governance in its own way. Our role is to support Governments, Parliaments, civil society, the media, trade unions and all the actors who will play an important role in forging that path.

Notwithstanding the floods at home, Rwanda has been in the news, and I applaud the Leader of the Opposition’s courage in spending 24 or 48 hours in that country at a difficult time for him and his party. Let us focus on that country for a moment. The United Kingdom has provided £380 million of assistance to Rwanda over the past 10 years, and has helped to implement public service and land reforms, and to ensure improvements to health and education. The result was that Rwanda’s economy grew by over 10 per cent. a year for a decade. The proportion of Rwandans living on less than a dollar a day has fallen from 70 per cent. in 1994 to 57 per cent. last year.

24 July 2007 : Column 774

Even where governance standards are at their lowest, as in Zimbabwe, we will not abandon the poorest people; that would doubly punish the people in those afflicted countries. As the Government announced only last week, the Department has committed £50 million to providing seeds, fertilizers, livestock and access to HIV/AIDS care, through tried and tested partners, so that we can assist 2 million of the most vulnerable Zimbabweans.

As well as safeguarding our aid, we must use it to fight the causes of corruption. The extractive industries transparency initiative brings together global business, Governments and non-governmental organisations to show how much money Governments receive from oil, gas and mining revenues. The Nigerian Government estimate that in one year alone that new transparency index saved $1 billion that would otherwise have been lost through corruption. That is money that can and should be spent on basic services, such as health and education services, clean drinking water and sanitation, and a safety net that people can rely on when times are hard. The White Paper committed us to increasing our spending on those public services, so that it becomes at least half of our bilateral aid budget.

We will make more long-term commitments to help developing countries plan for not one or two years, but for a decade—commitments such as the one that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made in Mozambique last year, when he pledged that the United Kingdom would spend £8.5 billion over 10 years to get every child into school. That will mean that countries that certainly need support can build a school and know that the money will be there to maintain it, and can train teachers, knowing that they can afford to pay a salary at the end of the training.

There has already been much discussion on the Floor of the House on growth and trade this evening, so let me turn to those issues.

Mr. Cash: Unfortunately, when the former Prime Minister went to the G8, no progress was made on water and sanitation—issues that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. However, the former Prime Minister did write to me on 25 June, as he was leaving office, to say that the issue would be put on the agenda for next year’s G8. Would the Secretary of State be good enough to confirm that that is Government policy?

Mr. Alexander: Of course I am happy to confirm that water and sanitation are continuing sources of concern to us, and I will certainly make sure that I write to the hon. Gentleman after this evening’s debate about the agenda for the G8 in the years to come.

The hon. Gentleman’s observation on partnership and working collectively in the G8 brings to mind a concern regarding trade policy that I would like raise with his Front-Bench team. I applaud the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) for saying that we must work effectively to open our doors more completely, so that we allow poorer countries the opportunity to trade their way out of poverty, but surely the right hon. Gentleman accepts that if we are to exercise genuine influence in a debate on trade policy, it behoves us to work constructively and effectively with our European partners.

24 July 2007 : Column 775

Notwithstanding the fanfare of today’s announcement about new campaigns, given that trade is a competence of the European Commission I struggle to understand how it assists endeavours to build a genuine coalition for fair trade within the European Union if only one party in one single country is willing to identify itself with the modern Conservative party. Surely that powerfully makes the case for the Conservative party to stay within the European People’s party alliance, which allows mainstream voices in the European Union to be heard. If one limits oneself to speaking to a particular Czech nationalist party, which, as I understand it, does not even accept the existence of climate change, one’s leverage and purchase in debate on trade policy will be commensurately diminished.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): I visited Burundi and Rwanda last month with colleagues from the all-party group on the great lakes region and genocide prevention, and the point was made time and again that the Department for International Development is doing a tremendous job in offering support. People were also very complimentary about our EU partners, and the help that they give the Department to ensure that support reaches the areas where it is most needed.

Mr. Alexander: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his observations, and I, too, pay tribute to the work of the all-party group. I know that my hon. Friend was in the Rwandan Parliament when a historic commitment was made to abolishing the death penalty in that country. Given its great troubles in recent decades, that was truly a historic day. He makes a point that is well taken by Members on both sides of the House: we must do more than simply send delegations to visit such countries. We must build effective partnerships that can support those countries in their journey from poverty to development. I return to the point that I made earlier: the European Union offers an extremely powerful mechanism by which we can strengthen our capacity to assist those countries by working effectively and collaboratively.

Malcolm Bruce: On exactly that point, when the Select Committee has met the European Commission, the Commission has shown a degree of common cause with the British Government. It has expressed frustration, however, that many of the other member states do not share our commitment to poverty reduction as the overriding objective of development and aid. What does the right hon. Gentleman believe he can do, on the lines that he described, to persuade countries such as France, Germany and Italy to make a stronger commitment to poverty reduction, rather than using aid to tie to their own NGOs and to their own mercantilist interests?

Mr. Alexander: That is a valid point. I draw on my own experience as the former Europe Minister during the British presidency. During that time, and immediately preceding the British presidency, in the run-up to Gleneagles, members of the Government worked very hard indeed to secure widespread support, particularly among the A10, the newer members of the European Union, who for historical reasons were not as familiar with the cause of development in Africa, in
24 July 2007 : Column 776
particular, as some of the older members of the European Union, to secure genuine cross-European Union support, especially to double aid to Africa.

In many ways that seems a model of the work that we need to do. Of course we should work effectively with our European partners to secure a progressive trade policy, but I recognise that that often involves difficult conversations. I remember a particular debate in which I took part in the General Affairs Council when Peter Mandelson, the Trade Commissioner, was seeking a fresh mandate from the Council of Ministers in order to be able to negotiate on behalf of the European Union. At that meeting I was obliged to speak forcefully from the British seat against a proposal from the French Government that would have effectively bound the hands of the Trade Commissioner ahead of a critical stage in the negotiations.

The hon. Gentleman’s experience as Chair of the Select Committee and his familiarity with European issues would, I hope, convince him, as those experiences convinced me, that in order to have influence with those European partners, we need to be inside the room exerting influence, rather than choosing to be outside the room deciding to launch a campaign or to protest.

In many poor countries, the aid about which I spoke earlier is a much needed catalyst for development, but in no country will aid be sufficient. As I am sure we all agree, economic growth is the surest path out of poverty, and trade is crucial to growth. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear his determination that the Government will

against poverty.

Delivering the promise of the Doha round remains our priority. We remain committed to finding a multilateral solution to the challenge that we face. The UK was instrumental in the launch of the round, and has kept it at the top of the international agenda ever since. Though the difficulties are real, the potential gains for the poor from a successful conclusion to the Doha round are huge. At the same time, we must also help developing countries to improve their ability to trade effectively. The investment climate facility for Africa, launched last year with $30 million of UK funding, uses the expertise of the private sector to help Africa become a better place in which to do business. The Government have therefore pledged to spend $750 million a year on aid for trade by 2010.

But the benefits of trade and growth for the poor can be realised only if we also tackle perhaps the greatest threat facing development, the challenge of climate change. Dealing with climate change is a clear priority for the Department for International Development. We are working across Government towards an international agreement on a cap and trade system which will reduce emissions and help developing countries on to a path of lower carbon growth by providing financial incentives.

The Department is also helping developing countries to preserve their vital ecosystems. Our contribution of £50 million to a new Congo rainforest conservation fund is intended to help prevent the double tragedy of
24 July 2007 : Column 777
that forest’s deforestation, for 50 million people depend on it for their livelihood, and we all depend on it as a second lung of the world.

Yet international action on shared challenges such as climate change, securing growth or securing fair trade, requires effective international institutions. We accept that the international system today was created for the second half of the 20th( )century, not the first half of the 21st. That is why the report of the UN high level panel on system-wide coherence, in which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took part, is so important and points the way forward for the United Nations in the area of development. The UK has long pressed for UN reform, and I can assure the House that that will remain a priority for the Government.

When I met Bob Zoellick, the incoming president of the World Bank, the week before last, I underlined to him the importance that the Government attach to working with the World Bank as one of the key multilateral institutions.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): In May last year the UK Government withheld £50 million from the World Bank because of concerns about conditionality in economic growth and aid. If presented with evidence of the World Bank embarking on such conditionality, would the Secretary of State consider doing that again?

Mr. Alexander: I hope it is a comfort to the hon. Gentleman that the broad issue of conditionality and the approach that the bank is taking was one of the issues that I had the opportunity to discuss in the earliest days of Bob Zoellick assuming his position within the bank. We have been clear that we are looking for a number of steps to be taken to ensure the requisite degree of transparency in the work that the bank does, and to ensure that the voices of developing countries are heard, perhaps more effectively than has been the case in the work of the World Bank in the past.

If I had to identify the challenge, I would say that it is to make sure that we have greater effectiveness of spend in-country. That often means devolving more decision making to country levels. In some ways I hope that the World Bank would take the kind of journey that has been taken by the Department for International Development in recent years, with a higher proportion of decisions now being taken within country. However, I would also want to ensure that the voices of developing countries are heard within the governing structures when those decisions are being taken. I was encouraged by the conversation that I had with Bob Zoellick on these matters. He is obviously reflecting on the challenges that he faces having come into the job only in the past month. I would expect that as we move towards the annual meetings later in the year we will have a clearer sense of the strategy under his presidency. I am optimistic that we will see some of the reforms that we have been urging upon him as we anticipate the International Development Association contribution later in the year.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): The Secretary of State will know that one of the surprising agreements following the UN summit was that the
24 July 2007 : Column 778
budget should be released only every six months, depending on UN reform. Would the Government support that approach? They have done it with the World Bank, so surely it would be appropriate to do it with the UN.

Mr. Alexander: I am rather wary of transferring specific methods of exerting influence from one institution to another. The nature of our relationship with the UN, as one of its very many members, albeit a member of the Security Council, is somewhat different from that of being a shareholder in the World Bank. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are actively engaged in conversations about the need for reform of the UN system, particularly in terms of system-wide coherence, and about the broader need for reform within the World Bank, which we will continue to press for in the critical months ahead as Bob Zoellick gets his feet under the table and begins work. We will stay actively engaged with the World Bank and with other multilateral institutions, because that reflects the broader approach that we want to see. We do not want a relationship of patronage, so much as one of partnership with developing countries, and it is vital that multinational institutions reflect that in the work that they do.

Since 1997, the work of the Department for International Development has moved from the periphery of Government to the Cabinet table. We have gone a long way towards ensuring that Britain’s contribution is no longer simply to provide the sticking plaster of old when crisis came, but to provide the building blocks for the poorest on earth to build a better future for themselves. Aid is a means by which we will alleviate poverty; development is how will end it. In our age, shaped as it is by the twin forces of globalisation and interconnectedness, to talk of one world is no longer to utter an abstract thought but to describe a concrete reality. In that one world, aid and development is not an act of charity but a vital investment in peace and prosperity, in equality and justice, in hope and humanity. If there is anything greater than the scale of the task that we face, it is the need for us to succeed. I commend our amendment to the House.

8.37 pm

Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): When I first assumed my Front-Bench position and met all the non-governmental organisations and people who populate the world of international development, I formed the impression that the former Secretary of State for International Development walked on water—I am sure that the current one will follow—in as much as DFID has vast amounts of money to give out to a great number of countries and causes. However, as an Opposition party we need to establish whether, in terms of those billions that go to the developing world, we are spending our money well. Do we get bangs for our bucks? Is the funding delivering? Is it being spent in a way that addresses global poverty, not just in terms of the great humanitarian need of sustaining life, but in terms of moving from poverty and dependence to independence, which must ultimately be our aim?

24 July 2007 : Column 779

This is a pretty consensual portfolio to have. I think that we would all agree that Make Poverty History was a phenomenal campaign whereby people across the developed world joined hands to put pressure on their Governments to make them give substantive promises at the G8 at Gleneagles. Great Britain can hold its head high in some respects. We provided £6.85 billion in aid last year—an increase from 0.47 to 0.52 per cent. of gross national income—although that is still some way short of the 0.7 per cent. target. Other promises, particularly from other countries, remain undelivered. Indeed, the Africa Progress Panel, headed by Kofi Annan, claimed that the western world is only 10 per cent. of the way towards fulfilling its Gleneagles commitments. In 2006, for the first time in a decade, total aid from the west fell.

I welcome this debate. It is a timely reminder of the progress we have made and the challenges that remain, coming as it does at the mid-point between the setting of the millennium development goals and the 2015 deadlines. It is now becoming increasingly obvious that those goals will not be met—at least, not by many countries. Liberal Democrats are committed to a target of 0.7 per cent. of GNI by 2011 at the latest; it was a manifesto pledge. I was pleased to read the first recommendation of the Conservative review because it shows that they agree that the 0.7 per cent. target should be met sooner than 2013, although today’s motion does not make that leap.

I want to address three key issues that are pre-eminent in the fight against global poverty: the nature of sustainable development, the tackling of corruption and climate change. If we do not make the tackling of those our priority, we shall fail in perpetuity to lift poor and vulnerable countries out of dependence, poverty and misery. As has been discussed already, we must remove unfair trade barriers against low-income countries. I hope that it is obvious that a key objective of international trade policies has to be to stimulate sustainable development, because no country has ever been lifted out of poverty by aid alone. An over-reliance on debt relief and aid leads to an unhealthy dependence, which creates a vicious circle that can be impossible to escape from.

As the Secretary of State said, it is vital that we reinvigorate the Doha talks to ensure a positive outcome for developing countries. We must reduce agricultural subsidies and trade barriers to guarantee a level playing field for all. The World Trade Organisation operates on a principle of one country, one vote, but we fail to give the poorest nations a voice in international trade negotiations.

It is easy to blame the international community for the desperately unjust situation we are in, but we also need to look a bit closer to home. The European Union’s record on free trade is deplorable, despite our best efforts. I cannot help thinking that our real chance to push that issue home was when we had the presidency of the EU in 2005. We have to help developing countries to build up their economies and civil society so that they can move away from dependency. China and India have pulled huge portions of their populations out of poverty through economic growth, which has primarily been driven by international trade. We also have to realise that it is in our own interest to liberalise the trade agenda.
24 July 2007 : Column 780
Farming subsidies come out of the public purse; taxpayers’ money is being diverted from where it is most needed in order to fill the pockets of a small but powerful minority.

Another part of the motion on global poverty mentions the need for

Next Section Index Home Page