Previous Section Index Home Page

15 Nov 2007 : Column 905

Moreover, we have still not done enough on the Paris declaration on aid. Professor Mick Moore, a fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, has written:

A strong case can be made that we should specialise, so that we can do more with fewer countries. In theory, the EU should be good at that but, in reality, it is probably one of the least co-ordinated or efficient donors. The UK and other international donors are directing more money to poor countries, but the EU, under the auspices of aid, is spending more on middle-income nations. The EU’s aid budget was not signed off this week—again—so the UK, through the good offices of DFID, needs to do more. The Department is widely praised for its expertise in-country, and it is farcical for our Government to impose a manpower restriction on it simply because of a head-count requirement dreamed up by some Treasury bean-counter or politician.

That is wholly inappropriate but, even so, the DFID motto of “doing more with less” is somewhat disingenuous. The Department is trying to do more with more—more outcomes and outputs achieved through more inputs of money, but with fewer staff at head office.

Mr. Joyce: I wonder whether I have spotted an inconsistency in the arguments presented by the hon. Gentleman, and earlier by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell). The proposition appears to be that a sceptical approach should be adopted to increased expenditure that is not matched by definable outputs and outcomes. I do not disagree, but the argument for more manpower at DFID does not seem to be attached to any particular outcome.

James Duddridge: I am grateful to be able to clarify that I am not arguing for extra manpower. I am simply saying that it should be a possibility, given that the overall administrative costs of delivering good outcomes are likely to increase. For instance, Paul Collier has said that our overall administration costs will rise as we put more money into difficult development schemes. I do not want DFID to be constrained unnecessarily by imposing budgetary support requirements or making it resort to multilateral organisations, when it could employ extra people. One option would be to take on staff from other agencies, but I should much prefer European countries to be able to pool resources in-country.

For example, when the Select Committee visited Ethiopia we found that the European agencies represented there could not say how much the EU as a whole was spending on the development of water resources. All the agencies were supposed to share that task, but each one was willing to talk only about its individual responsibilities.

I turn now to the question of conflict. What should happen after conflicts have ended is talked about a lot in development circles, and DFID’s post-conflict resolution unit is top-notch. I have been very impressed with the members of that unit whom I have met, but the unit’s work is rather like locking the stable door
15 Nov 2007 : Column 906
after the horse has bolted. How about setting up a pre-conflict unit, and placing greater focus on conflicts as they take place? A pre-conflict unit would make it easier to spot which countries are at risk, and enable assistance to be spread more widely. It would also mean that interventions to try to undo the damage being done would not have to be made while a conflict was ongoing, as has happened with the provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan.

4.23 pm

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): I am almost reluctant to give credit to Opposition Members, but those who have contributed to the debate have made some good points.

I want to concentrate on the eastern Congo region. Members of the all-party group on the Great Lakes often visit central Africa, including all parts of the Congo, the Great Lakes, Rwanda, Burundi and northern Uganda. I should like to make a few points about the situation in eastern Congo. The Minister may be able to make a few comments on it, and in particular tell us what comments he may be able to make at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Uganda.

I shall not deliver a history lesson—many hon. Members know more about it than me—but eastern Congo is a crucible of activity that has been affected by what has happened in the surrounding countries, notably the Rwandan genocide in 1994. More recently, we have had an election in eastern Congo. The DRC Government do not have the capacity at this stage—far from it—to ensure that their writ is applied across the Congo. There is a particular difficulty with a general called Laurent Nkunda, who was supposed to have integrated into the DRC army, but has chosen not to. About 360,000 people, by some estimates, have been displaced by the current difficulties in northern Kivu. Charles Murigande, the Rwandan Foreign Minister, has rightly drawn attention to the fact that there are issues for the Tutsis across in the east, and Nkunda sees himself as their guardian angel. There are issues that we should recognise in that department, notwithstanding the importance of recognising the right of the—remarkably, in many ways—democratically elected Government in the DRC to ensure that their writ runs. General Nkunda has chosen for the moment to set himself up as a rival power in the land. He has the kit and the people to enable him to do that. I understand—the Minister may have other news—that there is a possibility that Nkunda might be encouraged to take a sabbatical, if I can put it that way, and go off perhaps to South Africa for a year or two so that his absence could enable a solution to be reached with his followers. That is a major issue.

I know that the Government are not in a position to wave a magic wand and sort this out, but helpful comments can be made by the UK Government. Certainly, the Governments of the region listen. I guess that it is also important to reflect on the relationship between DFID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence. That was mentioned earlier. The man in the news at the moment, Lord Malloch-Brown, has been in the news for all sorts of reasons, but he is seized of the issue in eastern Congo. We had a meeting with him just last week. His
15 Nov 2007 : Column 907
expertise in international development, as applied through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is a positive benefit. Indeed, Baroness Vadera was in eastern Congo only last month.

Another issue for eastern Congo security is a chap called Joseph Kony, who runs a brutal, horrid organisation called the Lord’s Resistance Army. His organisation has effectively been displaced from northern Uganda by President Museveni, but it remains a considerable problem. I have met, and many colleagues here no doubt have met, members of the Achole people, who come to the Commons from time to time to lobby. They live in northern Uganda and have benefited from a ceasefire that has applied there for some time. They are the ones who would suffer most if that ceasefire were to cease. It is important that the right messages are sent to President Museveni at CHOGM.

There are things that we can do to move towards resolving the situation, not least dealing with the five International Criminal Court indictees. One is dead and one may recently have died. It seems that Vincent Otti, the second in command of the Lord’s Resistance Army, may have been killed a couple of weeks ago. There is some dispute. Joseph Kony is certainly disputing it. Perhaps that is one way to solve the problem of the indictees. They are perhaps down to three; perhaps they could sort the problem out for themselves.

In the meantime, the fact is that the writ of the ICC has to run. There can be no question of cancelling indictments, but it may well be that some local justice solution within Uganda, which President Museveni is keener to find now, can be arrived at. Of course it has to be up to the local parties, but there is a desperate need to sort the situation out. It overspills into eastern Congo.

On security, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) mentioned gender and violence against women in the eastern Congo, which is of course the most hideous thing—more hideous than anyone can really imagine without experiencing it. DFID funds a hospital called the Panzi hospital, which many hon. Members have visited, which exclusively treats the female victims of violence in the eastern Congo. It is a marvellous institution and a good example of an outcome on the ground that is the result of considerable investment by DFID, and the people there certainly benefit enormously from it.

The one other issue that I want to mention briefly is transparency. I am an enormous fan of any country that wants to put many billions into African economies, particularly into what we might call more viable economies, such as Rwanda’s—the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) mentioned Kigali, and he has more expertise then me—which is beginning to develop industries such as the communications industry. One can imagine investment going into those industries and delivering returns in due course, which must be the ultimate objective of aid. The Chinese Government are investing in a big way throughout the African continent. They are giving a loan of $5 billion to the Congolese Government, which is very welcome. Right
15 Nov 2007 : Column 908
hon. and hon. Members will know that some of that aid will return to China, because the recipients will use Chinese labour and Chinese materials, but that is a moot point. We should see the glass as half full rather than half empty.

I have been in contact with a number of mining and other companies over the past few years that do a lot of business in Africa, although not necessarily in the DRC at this stage, because of the security situation. Large international corporations increasingly have a responsible approach to dealing with countries in Africa, not least because if they did not have sensible corporate social responsibility strategies, they would suffer in public affairs terms, they would not do as much business and their share prices would fall.

However, although I welcome without hesitation the large investment that the Chinese Government are making—I understand that the UK Government are in close liaison with them about the good work that they are doing in Africa—a concern remains, justifiably or otherwise, that some of China’s large-scale investment is not of the most transparent nature. Hon. Members have talked today about DFID’s correct instinct to examine outcomes and measure outputs, but we can see the effects that we are having. We have a considerable number of devices to ensure that we achieve a fair degree of transparency and that the money does not go to all the wrong places, as it used to. Presidents Kabila and Kagame are a new breed; they are not the same as the Mobutus of old. At the same time, if there is a lack of transparency in the large-scale aid packages going to developing countries such as the DRC, the whole system is naturally brought into question in the public mind.

To conclude, although we all recognise a considerable commitment among our constituents to development aid, it seems to me—I could well be wrong; I am wrong on lots of things—that the reality is that there is no enormous political benefit to be had from ramping up DFID expenditure. We do it, and we are supported by the Opposition, because we think that it is the right thing to do. Broadly speaking, my constituents support it, but they will also say that charity begins at home. It is therefore important that ramping up DFID expenditure to at least 0.7 per cent. is seen as exactly the right thing to do, regardless of who is in power.

4.34 pm

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): I begin by paying tribute to the numerous groups in my constituency that regularly beat a path to my surgery door to impress upon me the need to go further and faster in matters of international development. It is a source of pride to me that the largest town in my constituency, Leighton Buzzard, recently became a Fairtrade town. I am pleased to have played a small part in helping to achieve that status. I should also like to pay tribute to groups such as Dunstable Churches Together and the St. Mary’s justice and peace group, who have come to see me about these issues on a regular basis in recent years. I have not always agreed with their every policy proposal, but I am in complete agreement on the objective that we all share, namely the reduction of global poverty.

15 Nov 2007 : Column 909

This afternoon, I want to be quite laser-like in focusing on the worldwide cotton industry. I want to do that because 99 per cent. of the world’s cotton farmers are smallholders based in the countryside in the poor, developing world. Cotton still provides about half of the world’s fibre requirements, and it is an enormous pity that the United States last year provided some $4 billion in subsidies to its own cotton producers, the result of which was severely to restrict access to the US market for cotton growers in the developing world and significantly to push down the global price of cotton. This has had a devastating impact on cotton growers in those countries.

There are other, more serious, issues that I want to draw to the attention of the House today. The next one is that of forced child labour in the production of cotton. It is particularly poignant that we should focus on that subject today, given that this year we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of Wilberforce’s abolition of the African slave trade. In Andhra Pradesh in India, about 100,000 children are documented as having been forced to work for up to 13 hours a day for no more than 50 US cents a day. In west Africa, where 40 per cent. of the value of the exports relates to cotton, there is evidence of considerable child trafficking in relation to the picking of cotton.

In Uzbekistan, about which I am particularly concerned, there are reports that between 200,000 and 450,000 children, many as young as seven, are being forcibly taken out of schools, bussed into the cotton growing areas, made to sleep on mattresses, often at the side of the road, and forced to pick cotton, for which they are paid no more than 2p a kilo. I am not making this up; I have seen evidence of it with my own eyes. Hon. Members might have watched the BBC “Newsnight” report on 30 October. I pay tribute to the courageous journalist who went into Uzbekistan under cover. I am not sure whether the Under-Secretary saw it.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas) indicated assent.

Andrew Selous: He will have seen the pictures of soldiers with rifles standing by the children getting on to buses outside empty schools. What has this got to do with us? Quite a lot, really, because Uzbekistan is the world’s second largest exporter of cotton, and about one in four garments in the United Kingdom will have some Uzbek cotton in them. So we are probably all involved in some way.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need to find a way of protecting the traditional weaving and spinning industries that have been severely damaged by the international trade agreements on cotton? Those agreements are another aspect of the issue that he is describing.

Andrew Selous: The hon. Lady is right, and I will come on to that in a moment.

In Uzbekistan, there is also evidence that teachers have been forcibly taken from the schools to pick cotton. There is even evidence that this has happened to doctors.

15 Nov 2007 : Column 910

What can we do about this? The European Union buys one third of the entire Uzbek cotton crop. It is not good enough for the European Union, the British Government or anyone else to say that the Uzbek Government have signed the International Labour Organisation’s forced labour conventions Nos. 29 and 105. What is the EU-Uzbekistan human rights dialogue doing about that situation? Is the EU just accepting the word of the Uzbek Government? I probably do not need to remind Members that as recently as May 2005 that Government brutally butchered large numbers of their people, including women and children, when they went out on the streets to protest. It is no good the EU having the power as a trading bloc to negotiate on our behalf if it does not take up such serious issues, and when the Minister replies I would be grateful if he would address that point. If we are doing such a large amount of trade in cotton produced by the forced labour of children taken out of school it is a subject that I and other Members will take very seriously indeed.

Tony Baldry: I think I am correct in saying that technically Uzbekistan is a middle-income country. There is an increasingly large number of very poor people in middle-income countries—indeed, soon many of the poorest will be in such countries—but because we have pro-poor budget policies we do not always engage much in development programmes in those areas. Does my hon. Friend think there is an issue about how we connect with poor people in countries whose commodities and minerals mean that they are technically middle-income countries?

Andrew Selous: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend, who has raised a valid point that I hope will not be lost on DFID. In international development, I hope we are concerned with poor people all over the world, whatever their situation; just because there are some extremely rich people in the Uzbek Government, due to their oil assets, we should not lose sight of the rural poor and the children who are forced to pick cotton, as I described earlier.

The solution lies not just in the trading policies of Governments, or with the EU or the United Nations; it lies with us as individuals, too. I was delighted when a little while ago my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) wrote to every Conservative Member encouraging us to use fair trade products, such as tea and coffee, in our offices. I already do so in my offices in my constituency and the Commons and in my home.

We tend to think of fair trade only in terms of products such as tea, coffee, bananas and chocolate, but there is an embryonic market in fair trade cotton. It is less than 1 per cent. of the entire UK cotton market at present, but the fair trade organisation is optimistic because the figure is rising fast. I understand that fair trade coffee is 7 per cent. of the total UK market, so there is clearly more that can be done.

If people were fully aware of the way that cotton is produced and of the consequences for those who pick it, there would be more concern to put pressure on suppliers. Overall, the consumer is king, so it would be a powerful way to do something about the appalling conditions that I described.

15 Nov 2007 : Column 911

In international development terms, it is true that a sustainable environmental policy is key to sustainable economic development. As I said in an intervention earlier, cotton is an extremely thirsty crop, and the cotton industry in Uzbekistan has brought about one of the world’s greatest environmental disasters—the virtual drying up of the Aral sea, which is only 15 per cent. of its former size. That has had a devastating impact on people and industries in the surrounding area. We need the turquoise revolution to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) referred in his report; we should use harvested rainwater and drip-fed irrigation to grow more drought-resistant and faster-maturing crop varieties that are suitable for semi-arid areas.

All over the world, a tremendous amount of pesticide is required to grow cotton. That matters; figures show that about 20,000 people in the developing world die every year from the $2 billion-worth of pesticide used to grow cotton. About 1 million people require hospitalisation as a result of pesticide use, and there are perhaps up to 5 million cases of people’s health being adversely affected.

I have seen a small piece of good news in the International Development Committee’s report, which says that DFID was involved in a project in India that halved the amount of pesticide use, while leading to an increase in production—so there is some hope there. However, some of the chemicals used are extremely strong. Aldicarb is the second most common cotton pesticide. It is, in fact, a powerful nerve agent and a teaspoonful would be enough to kill an adult. In 1995, in Alabama, endosulfan was responsible for killing about 250,000 fish when it got into the local freshwater supply.

The use of chemicals does not stop there. Coming back to the point made by the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) in her intervention on me, there is an issue with the further use of chemicals in the rotor spinning machines that are used to turn cotton into yarn that can be used for material. Many extra chemicals, such as formaldehyde, are used to turn cotton into a soft enough material, and the organic cotton campaign is keen to do something about that issue.

I should be grateful to the Minister if he particularly addressed in his response what the UK Government intend to do in respect of our trading relationships in the EU and the action that the ILO and the UN are taking to ensure that we are not all complicit in the use of child labour in the clothes that we wear.

Next Section Index Home Page