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4.13 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I beg to move,

We have called this debate to reaffirm our support for Africa at a time when the economic crisis is bringing acute challenges, and to set out our priorities for the next year. I am sorry that, due to the state dinner for the President of Mexico, I will miss the winding-up speeches later tonight, although if the debate goes on for 17 hours, I will, happily, be able to return tomorrow morning for the conclusion.

Africa has been at the top of the Government’s foreign policy agenda for the past 12 years. The personal commitment of successive Prime Ministers has enabled the UK to be part of a mass-mobilisation behind ambitious objectives. The millennium goals were agreed in New York in 2000 to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, and improve education, health and the environment. In Gleneagles, during the UK presidency of the G8, further commitments were made: to double aid by 2010; to give at least 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic product to development; to write off debts of 43 of the world’s poorest countries, most of which are in Africa; to ensure that children have access to good-quality, free and compulsory education and free basic health care; and to provide an extra 25,000 trained peacekeeping troops, helping the African Union better to respond to security challenges. The UK has backed up those ambitions by increasing the development budget for Africa from £300 million in 1997 to £1.3 billion this year. In that work, the Department for International Development has established a reputation for global leadership in aid effectiveness.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, especially so early on in his speech. May I congratulate the Government on the action that they have taken over a number of years to tackle malaria in Africa, which particularly affects and kills children under five years of age? I ask the Government during this economic crisis not to be tempted in any way to take the focus off tackling malaria through research and prevention.

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman anticipates some of the points that I will try to make in the course of my speech. The economic crisis does pose a challenge, and that challenge will not be met if we retreat from the ambitious goals that have been set.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab) rose—

David Miliband: I will bring in my hon. Friend, and then I will try to make a bit of progress.

Kate Hoey: The Secretary of State spoke about Gleneagles, at which there was a very useful meeting. Will he say a little about the other side of the coin—about good governance, what Africa’s responsibility was, and what has been achieved, as regards its side of the bargain?

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David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes a really good point. I do not want to give a preview of my speech, but after dealing with the economic crisis I want to deal with what I think are the four critical themes of development policy: governance, wealth creation, conflict and climate change. That will give us a chance to look in some detail at the issues that she raises.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab) rose—

David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes it impossible for me to turn down her entreaties, but then I will make some progress.

Ms Keeble: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He rightly pointed out the importance of our commitment to the millennium development goals, but will he reflect on the particular problems to do with the infant and maternal mortality MDGs, and on the fact that there is serious underperformance on those goals in sub-Saharan Africa? Will he reflect, in particular, on the importance of tackling the HIV and AIDS crisis, which particularly affects women and children, especially orphans and vulnerable children?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Of course, the fact that we are off track to achieve the millennium development goals was the reason for the call to action that the Prime Minister issued in 2007, and for the special emergency meeting of the UN General Assembly last September. One of the goals on which the world is off track is that relating to maternal mortality. It is invidious in some ways to pick out one organisation rather than another, but I know that the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood is an organisation that has support right across the political spectrum. In this country, it is sponsored by the Prime Minister’s wife, who plays a very important role in it. It is trying both to raise consciousness about the issues, and to make practical changes on the ground.

Before we plunge into the difficulties that Africa faces, it is important to recognise that between 1999 and 2006 Africa had made significant progress. The number of armed conflicts was down; economic growth was up; the number of children in school was up by about 30 million; immunisation rates were also up; and more than 3 million Africans are now on life-saving antiretrovirals, which were mentioned earlier. Today, it is right to recognise that Africa faces a new set of pressures, in addition to the historical burdens that it brings forward. Less investment, lower commodity prices, lower demand for African exports and, importantly, reduced remittances from Africans living abroad all mean that Africa and its people face a new set of pressures.

The impact will vary, but right hon. and hon. Members will have seen some of the estimates. Cuts in growth rates will be widespread, but some of the numbers are very stark indeed. GDP growth in Angola has already fallen from 15 per cent. to minus 7 per cent. Botswana is feeling the effects of a 90 per cent. cut in demand for exports, as they account for 50 per cent. of Government revenue. Zambia is suffering from copper prices falling by a third. Meanwhile, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, export earnings are projected to be 27 per cent. lower this year than last year, and there is a cash-flow crisis projected for the DRC Government; that crisis is probably felt not only in that country.

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The wrong response is clear—to scale back our commitments on development, to abandon the Doha trade round, or to reduce our ambition on climate change. Each will harm Africa more than any other continent. That is why the London summit is dedicated to taking concrete actions to protect the poor and vulnerable: to support free trade, promote investment and reform the international financial institutions. The United Kingdom will support the creation of a vulnerable financing facility managed by the World Bank and a global vulnerability monitor led by the UN to manage the impact of the crisis and increase international accountability to the poorest people in the poorest countries.

It is important to recognise that in addition to the economic and environmental imbalances that lie at the heart of the crisis, there is a political imbalance, which is represented in all the major international institutions whose representation is skewed towards the old powers. That is why I hope there is support right across the House for the Prime Minister’s drive to include the whole world in the debate in London this week. There are 20 countries representing 85 per cent. of global gross domestic product, but, significantly, there was outreach to African leaders in the meeting two weeks ago with representatives from 10 African countries, so that their issues and needs are fully on the agenda.

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): Last week I was in Tanzania with the International Development Committee. I had the opportunity to speak at some length with the IMF country representative and the IMF director for Africa from Washington DC. The IMF recognises the need for a country such as Tanzania to increase public spending modestly by 2 or 3 per cent. in order to try to generate domestic demand to take up the slack caused by loss of export orders. Although that does not apply to all African countries—all their circumstances are different—it applies to several. Will the IMF have sufficient resources to extend loans to African countries that need them in the downturn, and will that be discussed at the summit this week?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend speaks with much experience as well as expertise on these matters. He is right to point to the need not just for a change in political representation in the IMF, but for increased resources for the IMF, not least because several east European countries are asking for IMF support, so Africa needs to ensure that it has got its place. I am very encouraged by the fact that Japan has committed significant sums—I think I am right in saying $100 billion—to the IMF, and the European Union has done the same. I hope that that will be added to by the time of the final summit communiqué on Thursday. The issue of IMF resources is an important one, and the IMF must ensure that some of the old stigma that was associated with it is reduced and that it is able to meet the needs that undoubtedly exist.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): My question follows on from that. The president of the World Bank, Bob Zoellick, will be in London this week. What pressure will be brought to bear so that the World Bank becomes much more representative, not just of the donors but of the recipient countries? I know that the Secretary of State for International Development has called for that, but what prospect does the right hon. Gentleman think we have of achieving such reform?

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David Miliband: One always has to be cautious in predicting institutional reform in bodies that embody all sorts of vested interests, but I think the fundamental political imbalance in international institutions—the financial ones such as the World Bank, as well as others, such as the Financial Stability Forum—has come home to people very strongly. So I am certainly more confident than I would have been a year ago about the prospects. It is important to try to achieve a timetable for reform, so that that does not become an endless process.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): While the right hon. Gentleman is talking about institutions and taking interventions, may I put it to him my view that the coalition Put People First, which is taking a major role in the public concern about the G20, has an honest but mistaken view of Doha. Among its aims, it is urging the Government not to press for a rapid conclusion to the Doha talks, because it fears that they are all about economic liberalisation and so on. Will the right hon. Gentleman restate that the liberalisation of services acts in the interests of people around the world, that the stricture imposed by well-meaning people is wrong, and that the Government will press for a successful conclusion to Doha as soon as is appropriate?

David Miliband: Yes. The hon. Gentleman follows these issues carefully and knows that the Government have been stout not only in their defence of the Doha process, but in trying to advance that process. It is important that some of the good words issued in Washington about the deficiencies of protectionism should be followed up with proper monitoring mechanisms to make sure that the poorest people in the poorest countries do not suffer the most.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con) rose—

David Miliband: I ask the hon. Gentleman to contain himself.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab) rose—

David Miliband: Can my hon. Friend let me make a little progress?

Jeremy Corbyn: I want to intervene on this particular point.

David Miliband: I give way on this particular point.

Jeremy Corbyn: I was interested in what the Foreign Secretary said about the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and their poor reputation in the past. Will he assure us that during this difficult period there will be no return to the conditionality of privatisation and that there will be support for the development of localised industries and local supportive economies in Africa, rather than for the failed policies that the IMF imposed on many poor countries in the past?

David Miliband: There is a longer debate to be had about the successes and failures of IMF “reforms”, including in the 1990s, to which I think my hon. Friend is referring. Anyone who follows these issues will know that a lot of experience has been gained from what happened in the 1990s. My hon. Friend the Member for
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City of York (Hugh Bayley) made the point that African countries are different from each other and should not be lumped together, and that applies to all the countries in which the IMF operates. One of the lessons of the 1990s is that a single transferable model is not necessarily appropriate in all circumstances. There needs to be proper flexibility.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

David Miliband: No. After I have made some progress, I will be happy to take further interventions.

Pete Wishart: On this point?

David Miliband: No. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will find a way to get his point in. I trust that he has sufficient ingenuity to find a way to ask me a question about this issue later.

Our relationship with African countries is much broader than development assistance, but that assistance is important—not least the commitment to the target of 0.7 per cent. as a share of GDP, to which this and many other countries have committed, but which very few have reached. Beyond development assistance, we need to tackle the root causes of poverty and insecurity, some of which were raised earlier: poor governance, conflict, lack of access to trade and climate change. I would like to go through all four, with some specific examples.

The first issue is governance. People in Africa are demanding that their states be more accountable to their citizens. There have been 60 multi-party elections in the past five years. Those in Ghana in December and in Sierra Leone in 2007 demonstrate real commitment to democracy. Parliamentary elections in Angola last year were an important step forward in consolidating peace and strengthening democracy. The UK was the biggest bilateral donor to the ground-breaking election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2006. However, there is more to democratic governance than elections. Functioning democracies rely on an active civil society, a vibrant media, improved social conditions and tackling corruption. That is why throughout Africa we are working to build the institutions that can support democracy—not only in the DRC, but in places such as Malawi.

Pete Wishart: I am glad that it is not beneath the Foreign Secretary to take an intervention from one of the smaller parties.

There have been four coups in the past six months in Africa, and eight of the worst dictators are in sub-Saharan Africa. Governments are desperately abusing the state apparatus to stay in power. Does the Foreign Secretary think that there is a crisis in multi-party democracy in Africa and what is he doing to try to challenge and address that?

David Miliband: I was about to come to the fact that there has been increasing disregard of constitutional rule, most recently evident in Madagascar, in the coups in Mauritania and Guinea-Conakry and in the murder of the President of Guinea-Bissau. All those issues speak to a disregard for democratic norms that is very
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worrying. Two things are important. First, it is significant that the African Union should have been so alarmed by those changes; the way in which it has spoken up has been important. Secondly, we need to make our position clear in each such case, and that is what we seek to do—not least in respect of the case that for many in the House is the greatest affront to democratic norms: the situation in Zimbabwe.

Nowhere is the challenge of promoting democracy more evident than in Zimbabwe. The whole House is desperate to see an end to the suffering of Zimbabweans achieved through governance that restores economic and civil rights to its people; more importantly, so are the people of Zimbabwe. For years, the country has been led on a path of economic ruin and human suffering. Turning that around is a formidable challenge. It needs the Movement for Democratic Change to be allowed genuine power within the new Government. We all hope that Morgan Tsvangirai’s appointment as Prime Minister offers the change that Zimbabwe needs. We commit to working with him to support stabilisation and recovery. That is why we have increased our humanitarian assistance and will spend £50 million this year to help to feed Zimbabwe’s people, combat cholera, and improve access to clean water and sanitation. But the international community could do so much more if we knew that our assistance would be well used. We need to see that the new Government will be allowed by ZANU-PF to take the measures necessary to end the suffering of the Zimbabwean people. There are some important signs of progress. For instance, public sector workers have recently been paid; and Deputy Minister Bennett has been released. However, there is an enormous task ahead: to stabilise the economy, to restore the rule of law, and to restate and re-enact commitments to human rights and democratic processes.

Today I spoke to our high commissioner in Harare in advance of this debate. The political situation in Zimbabwe remains very delicate. Yet the meeting of donors in Washington last Friday brought the international community together to focus on humanitarian issues. The next step, after the humanitarian assistance and the improvements in governance that we hope to see, is to develop a thorough-going reconstruction partnership with the Government of Zimbabwe when we are confident that all money will be used for the right purposes—above all, for the benefit of the Zimbabwean people.

We are also concerned about British nationals in Zimbabwe—a concern that I know will be shared across the House. The UK Government recently launched a package offering assistance to elderly and vulnerable British people to resettle in the UK. These are Britons who are no longer able to support themselves in Zimbabwe because of the severe economic, social and health care problems that affect all who live there—something that the new Government have barely begun to address.

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