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26 Jan 2010 : Column 208WHcontinued
The provision of financial services brings its own challenges, and microfinance businesses might need help and guidance as they expand their reach, so the Department, together with the World Bank, is currently developing a fund, to which the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk alluded, to support microfinance
providers in Africa. We want that fund to invigorate approaches to microfinance, encourage innovation and ensure that people have the training they need. Ultimately, that should mean that financial services become more widely available to those who have traditionally been considered unbankable. I have already discussed that initiative with the all-party group on microfinance, chaired then by the hon. Member for North Poole (Mr. Syms), and I remain ready and willing to listen to comments from any Members who have an interest in the matter.
I will now respond to some of the specific points that other hon. Members have made. The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole, who usually chairs the all-party group that I mentioned, highlighted the important contribution that microfinance can make to the achievement of the millennium development goals, and I completely agree with her point. If we want to achieve the principal millennium development goal of halving the number of people living on less than a dollar a day, we must substantially increase access to financial services. Microfinance has a key role to play in that. She also made an important point about micro-insurance. That is one small part of helping communities and the world's poorest to be better able to withstand the rising impact of climate change globally, and that is one of the areas that we are working on.
The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk mentioned the work that the Department is doing with CGAP, which is effectively the world's think-tank on microfinance. We are co-operating with 32 other donors on CGAP's work. He rightly drew attention to the impact of the global financial crisis on the world's poorest people. As Members of Parliament, we of course will focus first on the needs of our own constituents, but he is right to remind us that almost 100 million people, according to the World Bank's estimate, have been pushed into extreme poverty by the global financial crisis, the vast bulk of them in developing countries. Microfinance is clearly one part of our response to help get back on track to achieving the millennium development goals.
The United Nations Secretary-General is convening in September at the UN General Assembly a review of our progress internationally towards meeting the millennium development goals. Ten years in to that 15-year ambition to achieve those goals, that will clearly be a hugely important summit. I hope that by then we will have put into legislation our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent. of our national income on development assistance, because that will send a powerful signal to the international community.
Mr. Moore: On that point, may I say how much we welcome the publication of the draft Bill? Now that we have seen it, and seen that it is relatively short, can we not get it through before the election?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for the Bill and hope that the International Development Committee, whose job it will be to scrutinise it, and before which I will be lucky enough to appear, will be similarly supportive. We will wait to see what it says. I cannot speculate on when the general election will be called, and we have a series of other pieces of legislation to get through the House. If we cannot get the Bill through before the election, and if we have gone through
the scrutiny process, why cannot all parties in the House commit to putting it on the stature book in time for the UN summit?
Mr. Andrew Mitchell: We have looked at the Bill and are happy to support it, as we have obviously made clear our strong support for the 0.7 per cent. commitment, so let there be no question about that. I wish to ask the Minister a question that the International Development Committee might wish to pick up. The Bill, which I have read carefully, states that if the Government do not bring forward 0.7 per cent. of spending by 2013, the sanction upon them is that they should come to Parliament and report, under three different headings, why that target has not been reached. That does not sound to me like a very strong commitment to the 0.7 per cent. target. Why is the Bill not much clearer, more succinct and tougher than that, in accordance with the commitment that the Prime Minister made to the House?
Mr. Thomas: I am not sure what amendments the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, but I will be happy to listen to specific suggestions from him or the International Development Committee. We have made clear our determination to achieve the 0.7 per cent. target, but I have never been entirely convinced that his party, when in power-not that I think it will get into power anytime soon-would follow through on that commitment.
That brings me to several points that the hon. Gentleman made. I will start with his questions about the Doha development round. As he knows, in July 2008 we were very close to getting an agreement on the headlines-the modalities-of a trade deal. Pascal Lamy, the head of the World Trade Organisation, estimates that we were 75 per cent. of the way towards a deal, and we have come close several times to being able to see Trade Ministers meet. We secured agreement in the G20 meetings that there would be a stocktake in early 2010, and we await word from Pascal Lamy on when that will take place. There was a ministerial meeting of the WTO in Geneva in late 2009, and while the Doha round was not formally discussed at that meeting, it was discussed in a series of bilateral talks in which we and other countries pushed for further progress. Meetings of officials continue to take place in Geneva and I hope that Pascal Lamy will feel sufficiently confident about the progress that has been made to bring Ministers back to Geneva to try to reach the final part of the agreement that we need.
As the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield rightly said, there are huge potential benefits for not only developed countries, but developing countries. The example of cotton is perhaps the most graphic. Countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso, which depend on cotton exports, could see huge potential increases in the level of cotton exports if we could only make progress on getting cotton tariffs brought down, particularly in the US, in some parts of Europe and in other OECD markets.
The hon. Gentleman also rightly mentioned Haiti. As the Prime Minister said at questions last week, we clearly need a review of how the aid effort has worked in Haiti. I humbly recommend to the hon. Gentleman a recent speech I made on that issue at the Central Emergency Response Fund conference in New York last December on average, we see disasters of the magnitude of that which has struck Haiti once a year, as well as a series of
other emergencies, so we clearly need to look at what else we can do to increase the effectiveness of the international aid system. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me a copy of his Green Paper-it will continue to be a useful guide for him when he is still doing the same job in opposition after the election.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this important matter in the House. The security of the Horn of Africa is critical for wider geopolitical stability in Africa, the middle east and here in the United Kingdom. There has been a lot of focus in the past few weeks on Yemen, which is just a short boat ride across the Gulf of Aden. This attention is justified, but I hope that although increased attention is given to Yemen, the fragile and delicate security situation in the horn of Africa will not be overlooked. If the horn fails to attract the political attention that I believe it merits, I fear that the UK will rue its decision.
As an avid Africa watcher, increasingly my view is that the key challenge facing Africa is neither the continent's lack of natural resources-many of its countries have plenty of natural resources-nor its lack of innovation or entrepreneurship of its wonderful peoples, who are intelligent, creative and adaptive; neither is it its often challenging natural geography and topography nor even its poor governance, which hopefully is diminishing in increasing numbers of countries. I pay tribute at this point to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union for their part in parliamentary capacity building.
My main concern is a malicious virus sweeping throughout Africa and especially through the horn of Africa, which does not discriminate between men and women, adult and child, young and old, or between Muslim and Christian. This virus eats away at the fledgling ambitions of Africa's farmers and small businesses, artisans, scientists, poets and songwriters, and at the dreams of its children and youth. The virus would, if successful, stop the clock on Africa's progress and turn back the hands of time. Of course, I speak of misguided and perverse extremist Islam-false Islam-and jihadism, both Islamism and Wahabism, along with its various franchises, affiliates and proxy footstools.
Today I hope to set out, albeit in the limited time of this debate, why the radicalisation of Africa must not be allowed to succeed and why the costs will be high not only for the horn and the continent as a whole, but for Europe and the United Kingdom. Such an outcome would return millions to poverty, put a near immediate brake on successful immunisation and health programmes, halt the extension of universal education and extinguish the struggling flames of young and fledgling democracies.
The UK has both a duty and self-interest in ensuring that it does all it can to stand with those African Governments and individuals who make a stand for freedom from terror, freedom to live in peace and prosper, and freedom to choose and remove Governments-government for the people and by the people-without fear of slaughter, murder and mayhem.
Let me be clear. I hope that the leaderships of all radical groups will some day soon come in from their hideouts in caverns, caves and cyberspace and realise the error of their ways. Leading Muslim countries have a key part to play in this enlightenment, engagement and counter-radicalisation process. But it is worth noting that many extremist groups neither accept arbitration as a means of resolving hostilities, nor subscribe to
conferences and negotiations: they train for terror and live for terror and they die in a bloody witness of terror.
In respect of extremist groups and terrorism in Africa, one of the great and misleading propositions is that a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict would lead to the terror groups disbanding. This is an inaccurate reading of all the evidence. That claim is merely a convenience for radical groups that want to court mainstream Muslim legitimacy and attract external funding. Their thoughts about Palestine are secondary to their immediate and near-abroad strategic goals and aims, which are both political and jihadist in outlook.
Even if the Arab-Israeli conflict were resolved today, terrorist acts against the west and Muslim majority Governments would not cease. Indeed, they may even intensify, unleashing terror against any Government or person, Muslim and non-Muslim, who is unprepared to conform to a particular view of extreme political Islam. Further, a Palestinian resolution would also be unlikely to stop Iran continuing to fund terror groups: the stated aim of President Ahmadinejad is to
"wipe Israel from the face of the earth",
not to bring about a successful two-state solution.
Poverty and lack of education alone cannot be cited in the terror organisations' defence. Yes, many operatives are impoverished, poorly educated and disfranchised, but that is not uniquely so. We know that many of the creators of terror groups often came or come from middle-class and professional backgrounds-well-established backgrounds. Poverty may be one driver, but, conversely, the availability of or access to wealth is not a single antidote: UK jihadists perhaps underline that point. The causes of radicalisation are wide and varied. Although no doubt poverty and corruption and other such issues play a part, the causes are complex and varied.
The Israeli-Arab conflict contributes to radicalisation, but it would be a strategic error and arch gullibility not to recognise and call jihadism what it is: a political ideology mixed with heresy that is advanced on the platform of jihad, aided and abetted by tribal chieftains and brutal warlords and the inglorious vanity of national leaders and external disrupters in the horn of Africa.
Sudan has a huge amount of natural resources and potential and could, with the right governance and internal settlement, become one of the continent's most prosperous countries. But such prosperity will not materialise if important political, administrative and diplomatic steps are dismissed or regarded as unnecessary and inconvenient. That is why this April's elections are so important.
I have serious concerns about the voter registration process and the means by which up to 2 million people living in the north will be required to take a long journey to the south, using poor infrastructure, to register and cast their vote. There needs to be a cast-iron guarantee that those people who make that long journey to the south will be allowed to return to the north of Sudan without harassment or complications. The Sudanese Government also need to ensure freedom of speech and assembly and the end of arbitrary arrests, otherwise the Opposition parties may cry foul.
The Sudanese Government need to avoid setting the scene for a disputed election result in April, which in turn could lead to the abandonment of the 2005 peace
process settlement. Such an outcome would be catastrophic for Sudan and the region as a whole. Similarly, if the National Congress party forms the national Government, it should ensure that it honours the agreement on the content, process and timing of the national referendum, in just 12 months' time. The next few weeks and months will take real political leadership in Sudan, and history will judge its leaders in that light. Sudan might prove to be one of the toughest foreign policy challenges for an incoming United Kingdom Government of whatever political colour in May.
That leads me on to Somalia. I hope that the British Government will continue to do all they can to ensure that the transitional Government in Mogadishu not only survive but develop into a fully functioning Government-a Government who are able to take head-on the foreign-backed al-Shabaab and other al-Qaeda affiliates. That is a jihadist militia that assassinates, beheads and blows up fellow Muslims. Who kills young doctors, whose training is only to help the ill, suffering and dispossessed people of Somalia? Al-Qaeda cannot be allowed to establish a caliphate of Greater Somalia. Not only is that against the will of the majority of the Somali people, but further regional conflict with neighbouring Ethiopia and Kenya would, I believe, become a distinct possibility, perhaps within three to five years.
The stakes are very high. Those jihadists will not be content with Mogadishu and Somalia. They want to spread their heresy and misery to Addis Ababa, Nairobi and other capitals in the region. That is the primary reason why I applied for the debate-an attempt at a stark wake-up call that unless more action is taken to assist Governments such as that of Somalia, whom I fully accept have their own imperfections and complexities, the alternatives will not only be bad for the people of Somalia, but strike a severe blow at this nation's national security. It is time for more action to be taken to track, contain and isolate these threats, albeit multiple threats.
The war on terror-that is what it is-cannot be viewed through the prism of bean counters in the Treasury. It must be viewed with intensity, realism and recognition of the magnitude of the threat and the catastrophic consequences of failure. The Treasury cannot allow the United Kingdom to fail. It cannot undermine this nation's national security.
Our European partners should also wake up and do far more. I also hope that Japan might see its shipping interests as a good reason why it could fund groundwork projects, employment generation and capacity-building schemes in Somalia. The Japanese have been particularly helpful in providing funding in Afghanistan and other parts of the world.
At this juncture, I should like to praise the efforts of the African Union in Somalia and, in particular, the Governments of Burundi and Uganda for the 5,000 peacekeepers whom they retain in the country. The AU's presence is vital, and I hope that Nigeria and other key AU members will contribute further to ensuring that Somalia's transitional Government survive and that the Governments of Uganda and Burundi remain committed to the mission in Somalia.
The British Government also need to be far more interventionist, robust and proactive in neutralising the fundraising capabilities of a minority of Somali nationals in London who are sending funds back to Somalia to
sponsor terror. Similarly, the right to travel of any British citizen should be withdrawn if there is reasonable suspicion that they are likely to enter Somalia or other countries to train for acts of terrorism. I also think-I shall speak slowly here-that for any direct-line family member of anyone found guilty of certain terrorist offences who is proven to have had the probability of reasonable access to knowledge that their family member was to prepare and/or train for terrorist activity, any outstanding visa applications, asylum claims or application for UK citizenship should be refused. If parents can be prosecuted for their children playing truant in the United Kingdom, far more legislative imagination could be used to bring pressure to bear on would-be murderers of UK citizens through family members who are found to be either complicit in or culpable of their activities.
I want to discuss Ethiopia, and I declare an interest in that I recently visited Ethiopia as a guest of its Government; that should appear in the next week or so in the Register of Members' Financial Interests. I think we can all agree that Ethiopia is the big beast of the horn of Africa, with its long history and long borders. What happens in Addis Ababa matters, not just because it is the home of the African Union, or because of its large population, but because for the best part of the past decade it has been one of the most stable countries in the horn. Obviously there is a continuing issue concerning Eritrea, and there are internal issues too, but certainly in recent years there has been comparative stability, albeit a fledgling and occasionally stumbling stability. That is one of the best examples of representative Government in the horn at the moment.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Was the issue of the border dispute with Eritrea raised during the hon. Gentleman's discussions with the Government in Addis Ababa, and does he have any hopes that the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling will be accepted by both sides?
Mark Pritchard: The hon. Gentleman always makes a sensible and thoughtful contribution when he intervenes in debates. I shall come on to that matter in a moment, but it would help if the court were to make the effort to visit the border, and if it did not make judgments based on a map in a room in a European capital. The question was raised, and I discussed it with the Foreign Minister and leading representatives of the Government, but I shall come on to that.
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