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4.46 pm

Mr. Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): I rise to speak in this debate immensely proud of the record of this Labour Government in international development. As a new Member, my political philosophy and political motivation have always been to fight against injustice and poverty wherever they are found throughout the world. I therefore feel a very personal commitment to support the work of DFID and the Government in this respect. Having been born in and lived my early life in India, I know first hand the challenges that poverty and the lack of economic development bring.

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I want to take this opportunity to thank and congratulate the Government on their achievements over the past 10 years. They have taken the lead in international efforts to tackle global poverty, with the historic aid package agreed at Gleneagles being of huge significance, following the high-profile Make Poverty History campaign. The setting up of the international finance facility for immunisation, which could help save 10 million lives by 2015, is another tangible achievement. The recent comprehensive spending review demonstrated that the Labour Government are delivering on their overseas aid promises and that we are on course to deliver the UN gold standard of 0.7 per cent. of gross national income to be spent on overseas development assistance by 2013. By 2010, this Labour Government will have trebled the aid budget in real terms since 1997, by increasing aid from £2.1 billion in 1997 to £7.93 billion in 2010.

DFID is internationally recognised as the world’s leading development organisation and has played a key role in progress on the millennium development goals. It has assisted in writing off 100 per cent. of the debt owed by the world’s most heavily indebted countries, and DFID’s programmes have contributed to significant results on the ground, by lifting 3 million people permanently out of poverty each year.

I should also like to congratulate the Government on their work in Africa, which the Secretary of State mentioned in his opening remarks. Through its global leadership, the UK has put the issue of Africa centre stage. Under the UK’s presidency, the G8 agreed an increase in aid of $50 billion a year by 2010, 100 per cent. debt cancellation, and free education for all. Obviously, the challenge now is for all G8 partners to fulfil those commitments and get Africa back on track to meet the millennium development goals. The UK has now prioritised Africa in its development aid and DFID aid to Africa is significant and growing. That is the right decision, and I welcome it.

As a Member who represents a constituency in which about 50 per cent. of the constituents were either born in the Indian subcontinent, or have parents or grandparents from there, I—like my constituents—am particularly interested in the DFID work in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Again, I congratulate the Secretary of State and the Department on the fantastic work that has been done in the last decade in these areas.

In Bangladesh, DFID’s aid contributes to more than 1,300 people escaping from poverty every day. The £100 million committed to the Bangladesh primary education programme will give 17 million children a year a good quality primary schooling. DFID is also providing clean water to 7.5 million people in Bangladesh and almost 2 million people in India. In health spending, DFID is financing more than 20 per cent.—£100 million—of the Indian national polio vaccination campaign. In India, the UK is helping girls go to school through support for a midday meal scheme, free textbooks, free notebooks and pencils, and, more recently, free school uniforms for girls.

Following the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, which killed 73,500 people, many of whom—because of poorly constructed schools—were children, the UK committed 10 per cent. of the £53 million humanitarian response budget to longer-term disaster risk reduction, which
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has helped to strengthen early warning systems and to support Governments in establishing and monitoring effective building codes. I applaud all those efforts and initiatives—and others that I have not mentioned.

I would like to make a couple of cautionary points, which I know the Government are aware of and working on. First, on human rights, it is vital that recipient Governments are under no illusions about the need to meet their responsibilities in relation to the human rights and good governance criteria that are part of development agreements with the UK. I am referring to Pakistan and Burma. The balance is tough to get right—in terms of withdrawing development assistance from recipient Governments who transgress in this regard, without removing support and thus harming the very poorest people in those countries—but I know that the Government are very sensitive to these challenges.

Secondly, it is vital that all development projects look to the long term and endeavour to support independence and self-sufficiency in the recipient nations, Governments and people.

Finally, from my own experience, I would like to comment on the targeting of aid. In India, there are some areas that are perceived as being affluent, but which still contain severe pockets of deprivation. In my own state of Punjab, there are still areas where significant work needs to be done to provide clean water, improved education and agricultural reforms. I hope that the Secretary of State and the Department will look into this matter and I commit myself to work closely with the Department, using my personal knowledge and contacts to assist in targeting resources to the poor areas.

It is important that DFID has close working relationships with groups and people in the UK who are originally from the Indian subcontinent, so that it can engage their support and knowledge, and so that we can all fight together against the evils of society on the subcontinent. There is economic growth there, but we need to consider the social aspects of society, particularly in India. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) mentioned gender problems; there are the issues of child labour, forced marriages and poor education for women to consider. It is our responsibility to look into those issues, to support projects, and to work closely with groups in this country that are working independently from the Indian subcontinent. We must work together to eliminate those problems. Finally, I commend the work of the Secretary of State and the Department to the House, and pledge my wholehearted support to their efforts to eradicate injustice and poverty throughout the world.

4.55 pm

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Sharma). His predecessor, Piara Khabra, was a member of the Select Committee on International Development in the last Parliament. Piara was always one of the most assiduous members of the Committee, and often asked the most pertinent questions when we travelled overseas.

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The hon. Gentleman made an interesting point about India; it will soon be a middle-income country, but as we all know from travelling through India, there are huge areas of deep poverty. The issue of how best to respond to India in the coming years will be quite a challenge for DFID and other donors. At the moment, DFID supports four development programmes in four states. It will be interesting to see how we all respond to an ever growing number of very poor people in what are technically middle-income countries.

It is DFID’s 10th anniversary; I am not sure whether there has been a party to which we were not invited. It is worth taking stock. DFID and the Government deserve to be congratulated on what DFID has achieved in the past 10 years. If one reads Alastair Campbell’s diaries—compulsive bedtime reading for most of us—it is clear that it was thought reasonably risky to set up DFID, and to make the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) the first Secretary of State. Actually, those of us who worked with her think that she did incredibly well, and it is a pity that although she is still a member of the House, she rarely contributes to our debates. She managed to get DFID respected in Whitehall as a lead, main Department, pari passu with other Departments in Whitewall.

It is much to Tony Blair’s credit that he achieved so much in the build up to, and at, Gleneagles. It is to the current Prime Minister’s credit that, following the comprehensive spending review, DFID is projected to spend almost £8 billion annually in the developing world—a phenomenal achievement. There is now consensus in the House on 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic income going toward development assistance, and on the timetable for that; that, too, is a great achievement.

Frustrations in the past 10 years include the failure on trade policy. The World Trade Organisation negotiations failed at Hong Kong. In fact, they failed so badly that no WTO ministerial conference has been convened on Doha since 2005, notwithstanding the obligation to hold a ministerial conference every two years. The achievements in the past 10 years are therefore tempered by some frustration.

There are several reasons why the commitments made at Gleneagles may be squandered. The first two are the responsibility of developing countries, especially in Africa. The first is good governance, a theme to which we keep returning. It slightly does one’s head in, really. We have gone through various initiatives such as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development. The whole point of NEPAD was that there should be peer pressure to try to encourage countries to have good governance. But while Zimbabwe continues to disintegrate into an abyss of misery and chaos, with countries around Zimbabwe standing silent, it is difficult to see what impact NEPAD is having. We must continue to champion the need for good governance, particularly in Africa.

Andrew Selous: With reference to Zimbabwe, I am interested to know what my hon. Friend thinks would be the appropriate response from the United Nations in terms of the responsibility to protect.

Tony Baldry: There is a whole speech to be made on what we do about the responsibility to protect. As we have seen in the case of Darfur, it often comes down to
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the difficulty of finding peacekeepers, peace monitors, lift capacity and so on. It is frustrating that we are no further forward on Darfur than we were a year ago. Indeed, things are getting worse.

Under the NEPAD agreement, there is a responsibility on African countries to bring peer pressure. That was part of the deal, and we would give greater development assistance. However, the problems are not just in Africa. There are real concerns about what is happening in Pakistan.

We in Banbury are building a secondary school in the earthquake-stricken area of Kashmir, and not long ago I went with leading members of the Kashmiri community in Banbury to meet the head of the education department in Islamabad. We were talking about madrassahs, and he made the point that because so many parents in Pakistan are so poor and cannot get their children to school because the schools do not exist, sending them to madrassahs is better than nothing.

If we do not invest in literacy in countries such as Pakistan, we will obviously create problems for the future, but if Pakistan continues to undermine democracy there is no incentive for foreign direct investment in Pakistan. Sorting out conflict is therefore as important as sorting out good governance.

Another set of threats to delivery of the Gleneagles aims are failures on the part of donors—not the UK Government, but on aid commitments Italy, for example, is woefully off target. Since 2005 overall overseas development aid through the DAC—Development Assistance Committee—system, has marginally but astonishingly gone down. We should ensure that countries that make great commitments at summits such as Gleneagles deliver on them.

There is a consensus about the need to secure a genuine pro-poor trade deal at the World Trade Organisation. As I have repeatedly said during the debate, we need to think about what to do about middle- income countries. The benefits of reducing tariffs and liberalising rules of origin would be phenomenal. According to Oxfam, just a 1 per cent. increase in Africa’s share of world trade would generate the equivalent of seven times the aid that Africa receives.

We must make sure that in the aid system there is accountability to both taxpayers and developing countries. This annual debate is bound to include discussion about the machinery of government. In the debate on Burma a little while ago, I raised with the Secretary of State the issue of budget support. The committee that the Secretary of State announced today is fine. It is an interesting step in the right direction, but it is slightly circular to have a committee to evaluate whether DFID’s evaluation of its own aid programme is of value. What is needed is some process whereby the outcomes of DFID’s programmes are measured and evaluated.

The time limit in the debate does not allow me to set that out, but I am happy to write to the Secretary of State. Since his castigation of me during the Burma speech, I have been doing quite a lot of research, and I could bore the House to tears with comments by the former Secretary of State and so on. When it came to offering direct budget support to countries such as
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Uganda and Ethiopia, all that happened was that DFID officials had to monitor the Government’s concern for how the money was spent. If, however, one is to spend money through multilateral agencies or project support, one needs a completely different mix of officials within DFID. All the officials I ever met in DFID were very high calibre: the Department probably has more fast-stream officials in Whitehall than practically any other Department, which is very good news, but one requires a different mix of them.

The constituency of people contributing to debate in the House is a constituency within Parliament as a whole. Colleagues in Westminster and the wider world in our constituencies are important in persuading the country and our constituents that investing in overseas development is worth doing. It must be possible to reach some consensus about how outcomes of DFID programmes can be measured and evaluated. If DFID could achieve that, we would not run into difficulties down the line, with people saying that money was wasted on this or that development programme, as we could have demonstrated that aid and assisting people works.

My final point is that we need to place more emphasis on jobs and enterprise in developing countries. Whenever one goes overseas—I know that members of the Select Committee, chaired by the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), often go overseas—the question is always where the jobs are going to come from. As the Secretary of State said, we need to think about how we can help with enterprise and development business. He told us about the Department’s agricultural initiatives, which are crucial and worthwhile.

On DFID’s 10th anniversary—I hope that at some stage we will have the opportunity to present the Department with a birthday cake, which it deserves—there remain some areas of concern, not least how we are going to measure outcomes in the future.

5.7 pm

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I agree with those who think that the ending of world poverty depends on economic growth. However, there is a difference between economic growth and development. The problem with the growth approach is that, without proper mechanisms for redistribution, the trickle-down effect simply does not reach some people. We acknowledge that in this country, which is why we have child benefit, school meals programmes, fruit in school programmes and school milk programmes.

The people not reached by pure economic growth are always the same people—especially vulnerable children—and it will come as no surprise to the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), when I say that that is the group I want to talk about, particularly in the context of DFID developing its HIV/AIDS strategy. Does the Department recognise the need for a strategy for HIV/AIDS orphans? In particular, will the Minister commit to ensuring that funds continue to be earmarked for those children? Unless we do that, all the economic growth in the world will not result in any improved conditions or circumstances for those children.

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I want to raise a couple of points, the first of which is about scale. In this country, we do not remotely recognise the scale of the problem of orphans and vulnerable children resulting from the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We are talking about 14 million children, almost all in sub-Saharan Africa. Just think about what that means in some countries. In Zimbabwe, the population is now down to about 11 or 12 million. I know from discussions with UNICEF people that estimates range from between 900,000 to 1.25 million orphans and vulnerable children in that country. That means that roughly one in eight Zimbabweans is now an orphan, which is a staggering problem for such a failed state to cope with. Once there is a change of regime there, the world will have to pick up that problem, because those orphans and vulnerable children will still need support.

The services needed by those children involve major complexity. They need food. We hear a lot of talk about sustainable development, and about feeding programmes having to be sustainable from within the community, but children are not sustainable unless they are fed. I have been to many projects whose store rooms have had no food in them. For one reason or another, they cannot get it from the World Food Programme, and they have to scratch around for bits of money. I have told my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of instances when I have paid their grocery bills and so on with my small change, because they simply did not have food. I have seen that in country after country.

Such children need maintained shelter, social care and legal rights—if a group of orphans are left after the parents have died, the family will come and take the hut from them, and sometimes simply leave them. They need school fees and bus fares paid, if there are buses, and the cost of uniforms, pencils and so on paid for. They need protection, particularly if they are street children. And they need antiretrovirals, which is a whole other issue.

By and large, the departments that deal with children’s issues in most developing countries are quite weak—they are across and down from the centre of power, much as they were in this country before children’s issues were properly recognised in the Department for Children, Schools and Families. A dedicated strategy and earmarked funds are therefore needed. If money goes into the general kitty, it will disappear into spending on those parts of government that make the biggest demands—usually the big institutions.

As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary knows, over the past four years I have built up a small charity that provides support for orphans and vulnerable children in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania. That has given me some insight into what happens to those children when they do not get care.

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