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3.56 pm

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell). He said many interesting things, and I particularly welcome what he had to say on the importance of reaching an agreement and of trying to remove conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I hope to return to that.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a quite excellent speech, as one would expect. Based on the policies that his Department is pursuing, transparency was very much apparent. We have made considerable progress, even in the past couple of years but, of course, we all accept that a challenge remains.

Before I turn to the substantial points that I intend to make, I must say that the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield has a tough job in trying to persuade his colleagues on the Back Benches to share the positive approach that he is now adopting. I wish him well in that pursuit. I hope that that does not sound as if I am chastising the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison).

Mr. Andrew Mitchell: I am happy to reassure the right hon. Gentleman, and to lift from his shoulders that unhappy concern by saying that the policy that I have enunciated and set out today has the full and total support of the shadow Cabinet and the parliamentary party.

Mr. Clarke: Nobody in the House who welcomes the consensus that we thought was being developed would do anything other than welcome that. However, we cannot ignore the interventions that were made. They were almost entirely negative, which does not help the hon. Gentleman in his task.

Mr. Crabb rose—

Mr. Clarke: I will give way once more. I know that others want to speak, so I shall respond to the intervention, then carry on with the points that I want to make.

Mr. Crabb: The questions from some of my hon. Friends during the Secretary of State’s opening speech to which I believe the right hon. Gentleman was referring were reasonable and current. They were about middle-income countries and countries that, through their economic growth rates, are approaching that status, and how compatible that is with current levels of aid to those countries. They were entirely reasonable questions to ask. The right hon. Gentleman should not infer that Conservative Back Benchers are somehow not in favour of meeting the 0.7 per cent. of gross national income target, or wider international development policies.

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Mr. Clarke: Even that intervention, when combined with what was said earlier, leads me to make a couple of points that, frankly, I had not intended to make— [ Interruption. ] I did not interrupt any Opposition Members. This is a democracy, but it is also an elected Parliament in which some of us are entitled to express our opinions.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): All of us.

Mr. Clarke: Indeed. I agree that we are all entitled to express our opinions, and I am about to express mine.

We were asked, for example, about India. What are we to assume from these interventions? Members of all parties visited India a year or two ago to examine the very serious issue of tuberculosis, yet 1,000 people still die there every day. Quite frankly, the people we met there in the saddest of circumstances were not asking questions about their Government’s foreign policy or about nuclear weapons. The same applied when, as I vividly recall, we visited Uganda. Lord Steel was with us on that visit. We sat outside a mud hut where a young man, surrounded by his family, friends and other villagers, was within just a few hours of dying of HIV/AIDS. Again, frankly, most of those people did not ask about the policies of their Government. I am not saying that we should not ask about them, but what I am saying very strongly is that I have never believed that individual human beings, wherever they live, from Delhi to Darfur, should be punished because of the policies of their Governments.

Let me continue with the points that I had intended to make. Given the global crisis, I welcome the commitment given by Opposition Front Benchers as well as by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to foreign aid at 0.7 per cent. of gross national income by 2013 or, indeed, earlier. When I last raised this matter on 16 July, my right hon. Friend gave me an assurance that the Government were still on course to achieve that target. I believe that the House has reached a consensus on the matter over the years, notwithstanding what might have been said today, and I also know that hon. Members on both sides of the House feel strongly about it. If individual Members put it on the record that they believe in this agreement and if all the political parties adhere to it in their manifestos, I will certainly leave the House a much happier person.

I welcome this debate. As has been said, it is consistent with the aims of the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006, which I had the privilege of piloting through the House with a great deal of support. The Act will mainly be remembered because it has led this Government—and it will be compelling for future Governments—to present an annual report to the House. Principal among the issues that we expect to be covered is how well we are doing on the 0.7 per cent. GNI target and, I hope, by how much we have advanced on it. The Act embraces our commitment to the millennium development goals. Given that its title includes the very word “transparency”, transparency is clearly of the essence—and I am very pleased that the Government have taken it on board.

In the same spirit, I welcome DFID’s recent annual report to Parliament, which we have not had a chance to debate until today. I genuinely believe that this report is excellent. It is an informative tome for scholars and
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members of the public alike, presenting helpful information in a clear and transparent way about what is being done and what needs to be done. Indeed, armed with that information, our debate helps to underline how important transparency is and how the report takes us forward.

I do not want to get into further exchanges with Conservative Members, but I gently point out to them the European Union issues covered in the latest annual report. Page 115 presents a comprehensive and transparent account of our relationship with the EU. It even gives the Government’s interpretation of the Lisbon treaty. I do not think for a second that my right hon. Friend can reasonably be criticised on that score.

There must be transparency at every level: in the Department itself, in terms of coherence between Departments, and in the holding to account of the European Union as well as the other international bodies, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. I welcome DFID’s commitment to the international aid transparency initiative, but the truth is that it works both ways. The developed countries must know where the money is supposed to go, and the developing countries must know when it will arrive and how much there will be. The absence of that knowledge has been cited as one of the main reasons for the lack of aid effectiveness. Most important of all, the people who are meant to be helped by the aid must know when it is coming and how it should be spent. That enables us to judge whether it is being spent as effectively as we all want it to be.

There are a variety of ways in which the Governments of developed and developing countries can help. In Uganda, for example, an information campaign helped to increase the share of funds reaching schools from 20 per cent. in 1995 to 80 per cent. in 2001. We can only imagine the positive impact that that is having on people’s lives.

I want to talk about some current issues, in each of which transparency is of the essence. I followed last week’s debate on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but it is appropriate to return to that important subject. I say that especially in view of the announcement by the United Nations earlier today that 3,000 more troops were to be sent to the eastern DRC. That is a positive action which I broadly welcome, but I feel that there are other countries, particularly in that region, with a wider role to play. I am thinking particularly of Rwanda. As this is a debate about aid and transparency, I think it appropriate to point out that we give the Rwandan Government £46 million in aid every year. I think that I am as familiar as anyone can be with the circumstances in Rwanda and the DRC, both of which I visited recently. On those visits, along with colleagues, I had the opportunity to meet Presidents Kabila and Kagame.

As was mentioned in last Thursday’s debate, our programme of aid for Rwanda comes with a 10-year memorandum of understanding that expressly states that the Rwandan Government must be committed to regional stability. It was therefore a great shock to me to read the following comments of a spokesperson from the Rwandan Foreign Ministry:

That strikes me as somewhat naive. The DRC crisis is a problem on Rwanda’s doorstep, and President Kagame’s unique status gives him the opportunity to exert a positive influence on an outcome that could lead to the kind of reconciliation that Rwanda itself has experienced.

Mr. Mitchell: I, too, noticed that comment, and I was surprised as well, but I think there is a clear explanation. The conflict is not between the Congo and Rwanda, which is why, as I understand it, the President was unwilling to attend a bilateral meeting with President Kabila. He did, however, attend a meeting in Nairobi last weekend with a number of Heads of State of countries affected in the region.

Mr. Clarke: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention. We all support the UN’s efforts to try to get a solution to this dreadful problem.

In that situation as elsewhere, mineral extraction has once again formed the backdrop to tragic events. At this juncture, I would like to touch on the comments made in last week’s debate by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. He spoke about the extractive industries directive, an initiative that I wholeheartedly support. In the same debate the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), who I very much welcome to his post and who is to wind up the debate, undertook to look into transparency in mineral extraction. I was wondering whether he would take the opportunity to inform us further of the Government’s thinking.

There are challenges of poverty eradication, providing clean water, reducing the rates of infant mortality, substantially improving health care, investing more in education for girls and boys and dealing with conflict and its effect on developing countries. They are ongoing, as is the importance of climate change and the environment—all of them encapsulated in the millennium development goals. It is in that spirit, too, that I welcome not only DFID’s annual report to this House, but the UN’s 2008 millennium development goals report, which offers insight that can lead to real optimism. Those objectives and much more can be achieved only on the basis of the transparency to which we are absolutely committed.

The existence of corruption, the absence of accountability and the need for good governance are compelling reasons for all the actions that the Government have taken and which my right hon. Friend explained in his opening speech. A debate of this kind would be incomplete were we not to take on board the impact of the global economic crisis on the poorest countries in the world today. The truth is that whatever anxieties we in the western world are experiencing, they cannot be compared with the devastation on top of existing poverty that those who live in developing countries find are heaped on their misfortunes. There is no prospect of a level playing field and it would be idle to pretend that it is within our reach. What we can do is acknowledge that declining commodity prices, disappearing markets, unfair trade practices and even the fear that we in developed countries feel about our own situation as we struggle
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with current reality is adding to the poverty of ambition of millions of people in Africa, Asia, south America and elsewhere.

That is why I would like to ask the Minister today to explain DFID’s thinking on some of these matters. What special consideration has been given to the global economic crisis and its effect on developing countries’ economies? Is a specific plan being formulated to offer both fiscal and technical guidance in respect of the problems those in the developing world now face? Surely those fellow citizens will feel the brunt of the storm.

It is fashionable to quote President-elect Obama and equally so to scorn those who do so, but I will end by quoting Obama—

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clarke: If the hon. Gentleman would not mind, I am almost ready to wind up.

I will end by quoting Obama quoting President Kennedy:

4.14 pm

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): I hope that the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) will not take offence if I say that this debate has had a surreal quality to it, because that is in no way a reflection on his contribution. Again, I pay tribute to the sterling, unrivalled work that he has done in this Chamber over many years on international development and to his groundbreaking legislation, which is at the centre of today’s debate. My observation about the surreal nature of the debate is based on the complexities of what we try to resolve on occasions such as this. Perhaps only in this arena could we be talking with such passion about untied aid that definitely has strings attached. Those who are new to the debate will not fully comprehend that.

What such people will understand, and what they will have seen, are the stark television images of the past week—the contrasting images from Africa. On the one hand, we saw the despair in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and, on the other hand we saw the elation in the village of Kogelo in western Kenya at the election of Senator Obama to the presidency of the United States of America. One image was a bleak reminder of the cycle of conflict and crisis that have typified much of the development debate over generations, and the other was a celebration of the close human links between the developing world and the rich west. As the right hon. Gentleman said, we must hope that under a new American Administration those will be strengthened considerably.

Different contributors this afternoon have made reference to the tragedy of what is going on in the DRC—up to 1.6 million people have been displaced, and there are real concerns about the 100,000 or so north of Goma who are beyond the reach of aid agencies. The situation
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is desperate, and I join others from across the House in hoping that the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo receives the reinforcements that have been announced today, which it urgently requires to deal with the situation, and that the diplomatic efforts are successful in restoring peace and implementing the Goma agreement.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that those forces will need clear rules of engagement that will allow them to shoot people who are walking around with guns? Without such rules, there will be no progress.

Mr. Moore: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I understand from his colleague on the Front Bench, the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), that that has been clearly set out.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the problems that we face, particularly in Africa, is that, in a sense, out of sight means out of mind? What is happening in the DRC, a country I visited some years ago, is terrible, but the situation in Darfur is as bad as it ever was and it has fallen off the front pages because of events in the DRC. The west, in particular, is very bad in this regard, because it loses interest. As a result, I fear that momentum will be lost and some of the changes that were taking place in Sudan will not now happen; and next year is a particularly important one, given that elections are to take place. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman shares my misgivings.

Mr. Moore: The hon. Gentleman’s valid point puts an extra onus on all in this House who have an interest in these matters and care all the time about them to ensure that we bring them back to the forefront of the agenda. Although Darfur has not been mentioned other than in his intervention, I hope that we might have the chance in the near future to debate the humanitarian situation there and the efforts that are being made by the Department for International Development to support the communities affected.

The scale of what is going on in the DRC, which is fresh in our minds, is staggering. For example, 100,000 people constitute the population of the entire region of which my constituency forms a part, and to imagine every last person there being beyond help, as so many are north of Goma at the moment, is striking and worrying. I hope that as the Secretary of State did not get the opportunity to focus on that situation in his speech, the Minister who winds up the debate will be able to talk about the aid package for the DRC. We hope to see it successfully delivered on the ground in the next few weeks as the situation unfolds.

The right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill touched on the global financial crisis, and this debate takes place at a defining moment for development, with the developing world facing fundamental challenges in this fragile financial situation. The international focus has so far been on creating stability and injecting vast capital sums to secure domestic financial systems. That is the correct thing to do, but the danger is that the impact of the crisis is so great that we will overlook what is happening in developing countries.

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