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The commitment we all share to increase spending must be a means to an end, not an end in itself.

A growing budget means that there is an even greater need for rigorous independent scrutiny and constant active pressure to raise performance. It is in that context that we share the Select Committee’s concern about staff numbers being cut at the very time when the Department’s budget is set to increase so significantly. Spending more money with fewer people means that there is likely to be direct budgetary support and more multilateral spending regardless of their desirability. It is clearly ridiculous that DFID’s staffing requirements should be determined by a general Treasury diktat rather than the specific needs of DFID’s rapidly expanding budget. The level of staffing in DFID should be determined by the job that we require the Department to do, rather than the other way round. The Conservative priority is clear: effectiveness.

It is vital that the Secretary of State’s decisions on how to divide our scarce resources between the myriad different multilateral agencies is based on thorough, empirical analysis of the effectiveness of institutions in reducing poverty. I am therefore rather concerned that the multilateral effectiveness summaries promised for September 2007 have yet to be published. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us in his wind-up speech when these important documents are to be made public.

The Secretary of State will shortly visit Tanzania. The country is something of a darling of the aid industry, as I discovered when I visited it in September. It is the recipient of the largest British direct budget support, with approximately £105 million paid directly into the Government’s coffers this year. That is a colossal sum, and we must receive an absolute assurance that the money is delivering real results and value for money.

When the Secretary of State arrives, he will no doubt see the twin towers of the Bank of Tanzania rising high above the Dar es Salaam skyline. He will hear the allegations of corruption that have been levelled in relation to the construction of those towers and in regard to senior public figures. He will no doubt be aware of the Tanzania radar deal that his decent and honourable predecessor was forced to defend, with palpable embarrassment, in the House earlier this year.

So I hope that in Tanzania, the Secretary of State will examine direct budgetary support with a critical eye. We all know the powerful arguments in favour of such support—the promoting of country ownership and the strengthening of Government systems—but he must satisfy himself that such money is properly spent, that his officials maintain their objectivity, and that they do not become in-country advocates of direct budgetary support while overlooking the problems with that policy.

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Tony Baldry: We did not hear very much in the Secretary of State’s speech about good governance— [ Interruption. ] Well, we did not. What happened to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development? It seemed to me that part of the deal with African countries was our giving them large amounts of development assistance in exchange for this new economic partnership involving peer review. That does not seem to be happening in places such as Zimbabwe. What are my hon. Friend’s views on that?

Mr. Mitchell: My hon. Friend is of course absolutely right. It is precisely in pursuit of those matters that the Secretary of State is visiting Tanzania next week. We will all listen with great interest to what he has discovered when he returns.

When the Secretary of State is in Tanzania, I hope that he will emphasise that Britain will be clear and assertive in demanding real increases in the quantity and quality of Government spending in priority sectors such as health and education. There can be no concession to doubt and uncertainty in this matter. We owe it to the people of Tanzania and to our own taxpayers to secure clear results from this immense sum of money.

Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods: Can the hon. Gentleman confirm whether it is the policy of his Government to support— [ Interruption. ] I meant to say, is it his party’s policy to provide support to Governments in developing countries? It is incredibly important that we build the capacity of those Governments and their scrutiny mechanisms, so that they can spend the money wisely and account for it. That is the clear way forward. Does his party support it?

Mr. Mitchell: The hon. Lady referred to my Government, and I am sure that she is wrong merely on a matter of timing. I can assure her that we fully understand the importance of using direct budgetary support where we can—indeed, I was making that very case—and where we can, the next Conservative Government will certainly do so.

I know that the Secretary of State has studied with interest the proposal that I announced at the Conservative party conference to boost the ability of British doctors and health professionals to work, train and teach in developing countries. Our plans have been backed by leading non-governmental organisations, including Voluntary Service Overseas, the Tropical Health and Education Trust, and Merlin. The Secretary of State will know that working abroad is a particularly intensive and demanding form of training for our doctors, but they return with an expanded set of skills and are better doctors for British patients as a result.

Every doctor I have ever met who has worked in a developing country speaks of the huge benefits, personal and professional, that they have gained, but too often doctors and nurses in Britain face serious obstacles to achieving their aim of making a contribution in poor countries. Time spent abroad is often not accredited and does not help doctors to progress in their careers. Sadly, the Government’s modernising medical careers initiative has made things significantly worse. We
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Conservatives want to reduce the barriers that British health professionals face when they want to work in poor countries. A Conservative Government will establish a new health systems partnership fund—worth £5 million a year to begin with—that would pay for VSO to organise year-long placements for up to 250 British health workers to work in developing countries. It would pay toward the pension contributions of these long-term volunteers, pay for THET to expand its efforts to link British health care institutions with those in developing countries, and match pound for pound money raised by health care institutions to fund international links and visits, up to a maximum of £10,000 per institution. It would also help to fund an electronic health exchange called HealthBay, where requests for help from the developing world would be matched against offers from developed countries. I hope that the Government will make it a priority to introduce proposals in this area in the near future.

I turn to trade, and the role of the private sector in particular. The Government need to work harder to secure a successful outcome to the Doha round. As the Secretary of State acknowledged, this trade round was always meant to be about development, and much more needs to be done. Conservative proposals for a real trade campaign, set out by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in the Rwandan Parliament in July, called on world leaders to open their markets to goods from poor countries and to invest in aid for trade to help countries, particularly those in Africa, to tap into the potential of the global market. We believe that the proposals command genuine cross-party support and hope that the Government will embrace them.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House what he and his Ministers are doing to rescue the Doha trade round from the deadlock that prevails? Does he agree that a deal was tantalisingly close earlier this year? What steps is he taking to progress this important agenda?

Mr. Alexander: On the specific question that was put, I can confirm that within the past 48 hours I have spoken to the Prime Minister. He had just had a telephone call with President Lula of Brazil. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that whether it is at Heads of Government level or through the Trade Commissioner, such discussions continue.

With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, may I push him on this issue of his so-called real trade campaign? What would be real about a campaign that implicitly acknowledges that the European Union continues to be the body that is competent to represent the United Kingdom’s interest in the World Trade Organisation, but comes from a party that simultaneously seeks to marginalise its own influence within the European Union? How can one be influential if one is out of the room, as opposed to being influential in it?

Mr. Mitchell: The right hon. Gentleman is demeaning his position by indulging in such pathetic party political point scoring. We agree about the importance of boosting free and fair trade, so instead of making these rather silly points, he should focus on the case that I am trying to make.

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Hugh Bayley: I ask the hon. Gentleman to address the question that the Secretary of State has raised. It is not a demeaning point, because we all recognise that breaking the deadlock in the Doha round can be achieved only if there is a shift in European Union trade policy. How would such a shift be achieved by a party that does not play a major part in Europe and is not one of the major party blocs in the European Union? That question needs to be answered.

Mr. Mitchell: I knew that it was a mistake for me to give way to the hon. Gentleman for a second time. First, he knows that there are a number of different blockages on the Doha round; the position of the European Union was a particular difficulty, but it is now much less so. Secondly, he knows that the support for Commissioner Mandelson’s views—the position of all the parties in this House—is considerable. Britain negotiates these matters through the European Union, rather than bilaterally, and the point that the hon. Gentleman makes is, as I suggested to the Secretary of State, a ridiculous one.

I wish to address the important matter of European partnership agreements. As has been stated, the deadline for African, Caribbean and Pacific countries to sign them is rapidly approaching. My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), the shadow Minister for international development and trade, has just returned from a visit to ACP countries, where he met Ministers and senior officials to discuss these important issues. He will have a number of points to raise if he catches your eye later in the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall be visiting Guyana next week to discuss these matters with Ministers there. It is most important that these agreements open markets and facilitate real benefits to ACP countries, whose determination to lift their people out of poverty must be matched by support and partnership from the wealthy countries of Europe.

Further to the earlier more sensible comments from the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) about the private sector, over recent weeks there appears to have been a welcome recognition by Ministers that economic growth needs to move sharply up the development agenda. I have enjoyed reading the speeches of Baroness Vadera. She argues strongly that growth is essential for poverty reduction, saying that

That shift of emphasis may well herald a determination by Ministers to inject more private sector DNA into DFID. If so, that would be a good thing.

I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to the stimulating report of the Canadian Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, published in February, which makes a passionate call for private sector-led development. It argues that Governments must lower the cost of doing business and create environments that are attractive for private sector growth and investment. Those are important arguments. If the Secretary of State’s change of emphasis promotes them, we will strongly support him.

I come now to the subject of agriculture and the support given by DFID. The Secretary of State defended the Department’s record, and that is fair enough, but I
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also draw his attention to the excellent passage in the report from the Conservative party’s globalisation and global poverty group that deals with productivity and agriculture. Similarly, I draw his attention to the wise comments in the Select Committee on International Development report published today, which argues that DFID has shifted its focus in recent years away from agriculture. The Committee believes that DFID’s thinking needs to be rebalanced in that respect, and so do we.

The final points that I wish to raise relate to resolving conflict and to fragile states. In today’s report, the International Development Committee argues that DFID does not yet have

As I said in the debate more than a year ago on the 2006 White Paper, the Government—notwithstanding the defence that the Secretary of State has given today—still fail to address gender inequality. Women bear the greatest cost of poverty and too many girls do not go to school. Women bear the brunt of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and, of course, they most directly bear the brunt of conflict.

We cannot escape the absolute and direct link between poverty on the one hand and conflict on the other, and therefore the prime importance of resolving conflict if international development is to succeed. The Government are making progress in how they address that inevitably cross-departmental issue, just as the UN is beginning to make some very modest progress in promoting its responsibility to protect. In Sudan, we need to see rapid progress on humanitarian relief, progress towards a political solution and an effective African Union-UN hybrid force.

I have suggested previously that there is much more to be done to promote regional security arrangements and the use of NATO air power, not least in the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Darfur. It is no good the world solemnly embracing a responsibility to protect and thereby winning easy plaudits and headlines in New York, which mean precisely nothing in the camps of Darfur and to the displaced people in Zimbabwe and Burma.

On that note, I am particularly surprised that the Government have yet to accept in full the powerfully argued recommendation of the International Development Committee that aid to Burma should be quadrupled by 2013. The Conservatives have been making that argument now for nearly two years. As I said in the debate on Burma on Monday 29 October, we will honour the recommendation in full as soon as we have the opportunity in government. I invite the Secretary of State, who is not unreasonable on the matter, to reflect further on the proposal.

I hope that when the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), winds up, he will update us on progress on the international arms trade treaty. That is a proposal that, as he will know, enjoys the full support of the Conservative Party.

I believe that the fight against global poverty, disease and malnutrition is a cause that unites all parties. We are fortunate to be the generations that have both an extraordinary opportunity and the wherewithal to make a huge difference at this time.

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Pete Wishart: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mitchell: I was perorating, but I will give way.

Pete Wishart: The hon. Gentleman knows that there is a lot of work to be done. He will obviously be aware of the international aid scheme that the Scottish Government are currently operating, particularly in Malawi, which has been resolutely opposed by the Conservatives down here, especially the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace), who has been vociferous in his campaign against the Scottish Government being involved in international aid work. Will the hon. Gentleman support the Scottish Conservatives in welcoming this work and acknowledge that there is enough work to go round for us all to be involved in?

Mr. Mitchell: The hon. Gentleman is wrong in saying that the Conservatives at Westminster have opposed the policy that he describes. I speak from the Front Bench for the party, and I assure him that it has not made the statements that he ascribes to us.

I have no doubt that in the years to come we in this House will marvel that for so long the international community has put up with leaders such as General Than Shwe, General Bashir and President Mugabe. These are people unfit to exercise leadership over their countries and their rightful place is behind bars in The Hague.

The commitment of those whom we represent in this place is stronger now than ever before. It is up to all of us to ensure that aid effectiveness, good governance and an end to the era of impunity are turned from ambitious aims and theories into the practical realities and the delivery of international development.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. May I remind all right hon. and hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed a 10-minute limit on all Back-Bench speeches.

3.6 pm

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): I welcome the debate, especially on the eve of the important events tomorrow involving Children in Need. I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his kind reference at the start of his speech and the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) for the things he had to say.

For the benefit of clarity, may I say that look forward to a debate on the report in response to the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006? I say that because the Government have a very good story to tell. It is important, particularly in the light of the exchanges—if time allows, I will deal with them—between the Front-Bench spokesmen on devoting 0.7 per cent. of national income to overseas aid. It is extremely important that all Governments are monitored—that the Executive are held to account. I hope that I will not be accused of making party points when I say that the steep decline in the 1980s and 1990s in our progress towards achieving 0.7 per cent. of gross national income is another reason for this House to hold all Governments to account on that objective.

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