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Wirral West has been shaped by its geography, the prevailing winds and the high seas. Back in AD 900, they brought the invading Vikings who settled there and made their parliament at the hamlet of Thingwall. On Thurstaston hill, the highest point of the Wirral, is Thor's stone. Legend has it that when Thor, the great Viking god of thunder, fertility and the law, rode across the heavens on his chariot, the noise would be the rumble of thunder, and when he threw his hammer there would be a flash of lightning across the skies. His hammer is meant to be buried under the stone. It is said
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that Thor had a simple way of making laws and righting wrongs: killing those who stood in his way. Being mere mortals, and not gods, we have produced a moderate way of performing those duties which begins here in the House.

King Canute is said to have stood at the sea port in Meols attempting to turn back the tide from flooding the north shores of Wirral. Whether that is fact or fable, it is a lesson that neither man nor king can turn back the tide. But, when given the right to govern and to work in consensus, as this historic coalition has been, we can look forward to creating and altering our future. The people of Wirral know all about that, for they have strength of character, warmth of heart and a sense of humour; perhaps there is a bit of Viking left in them. They know what is good for their area and they will fight hard for what they believe.

To those who say that democracy does not work or that a person or community cannot change things, I say, "Take heart from the people of Wirral." They were threatened with the closure of their libraries and leisure centres, and it was viewed as a fait accompli, but it was not. Some 60,000 people took to the streets in Wirral, demonstrated, lobbied and held public meetings, and the decision was overturned. People can make a difference and the people of Wirral have done so.

I did not know which debate I was going to make my maiden speech in, because they were all relevant to the people of Wirral West and to their aims and ideas. A health debate would have been relevant, because we are home to Arrowe Park hospital, which employs 6,000 people and serves 400,000 people across Wirral. The acute trust is the biggest and busiest in the north-west. Education is also important; Wirral West has some of the best and progressive schools, including Calday, West Kirby grammar, Hilbre, Pensby and Woodchurch high school. Work and pensions issues are also important to us, as the young search for employment and the old search for support. However, when I received 20 letters from class P at Hayfield primary school, and another letter from the sixth-form girls at Upton convent, I knew that I had to make my maiden speech in this debate.

Class P has signed up to the 1GOAL campaign to help global poverty through education. The campaign is trying to use the profile of the 2010 World cup in South Africa, bringing together footballers and fans of all ages with charities and local and world leaders, to make education a reality for 72 million primary school children worldwide by 2015. I asked class P to explain what poverty meant to them. They said it was about not being able to go to school to learn and make friends, about being sick but not having a doctor and about living in fear. Most of all, poverty is about living with no hope and dying with no one caring. According to UNICEF, 24,000 children die that way each day, and 10.6 million children die before the age of five-that is the same total as all the children of France, Germany, Greece and Italy added together. So today I bring the message of the next generation to the attention of the current generation-beat poverty through education.

Yes, and I believe in the goodness of human beings and the thread of humanity that touches the core of every one of us. It is here in this Chamber, on all sides of the House, and it is in class P at Hayfield school.

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All of us come here with the desire to help others and, ultimately, to enable them to help themselves, but different times-and we are living in different times-require different solutions. We are living in a financial downturn and at a time of financial restraint. We have inherited a record deficit, so we have to do things differently. We have to have a different strategy but, that said, we must work together and use and acknowledge the successes of past Parliaments.

So I welcome the new coalition Government's commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income as aid by 2013, helping the poorest in the world. I hope that that is welcomed by all Members of the House, and I am sure that it will be-just as it will be welcomed by the children at Hayfield school.

2.41 pm

Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): May I begin by welcoming to the House the hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey)? She gave a very confident and lucid speech, and raised the very pertinent issue of how the vision of children can often inspire us to consider some of the greater global problems that we face.

As the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) correctly said earlier, the environment for a debate on development is very different from what it was five years ago, when we had the Make Poverty History protest in Edinburgh. Obviously, we are facing much greater economic pressures domestically, but the two problems are not separate. Increasingly, our future is bound to that of the developing south, in an age of growing volatility.

The millennium development goals must remain at the heart of our policy direction and development. I welcome the new Government's commitment to the MDG process and the 0.7% target, but many of us would be much more comforted if we had a more settled timetable for passing binding legislation to achieve that. In increasingly difficult times, the issue of ring-fencing will be coming under pressure, and it is important that all sides retain support.

However, I also think that this is a time to look back and reflect on how we can sustain and improve performance in respect of the MDG targets. I believe that we need to move away from a narrow focus on technical intervention and move to a focus on supporting citizens' ability to exercise their rights. Our overarching philosophy should be that poverty is not inevitable. We should not believe that aid in its current form should be a permanent fixture in world affairs; rather, we should believe that it is the means to help countries out of dependency and to empower them to tackle their national problems by their own means.

As I have argued before in this House, I believe that one area of poverty that does not receive sufficient priority is employment. Globally, more than 1 billion people are currently unemployed, under-employed or working poor. As populations in the developing world continue to escalate, global official unemployment has now reached a record high of over 185 million.

Nearly half that total are people under 24 years of age, yet younger people represent only a quarter of the working-age population. That problem may well get worse in the coming decade, when young people will make up the highest ever proportion of the world's
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population. Currently, there are 1.5 billion people aged between 12 and 24, of whom 1.3 billion live in the south. It is estimated that, due to the global recession of the last few years, 64 million more people worldwide will fall into extreme poverty this year alone. If we do not wish the progress on the MDGs to recede, we need to give employment a much greater priority at every level.

Increasing urbanisation in poor nations is exacerbating the problem, as more and more people are concentrated in shanty towns, often without access to basic utilities and at increased risk of disease, abuse and marginalisation. Obviously, that can lead to increasing domestic political instability, with little enforceable domestic security. It also provides the perfect environment for human trafficking and other forms of criminal activity, such as drugs and arms trading, the consequences of which we can see in every town and city in Europe. We face not only global bank and debt crises, but a global unemployment crisis, both at home and abroad, but too often in their language and responses, our world leaders fail to place employment at the core of their priorities.

Now is exactly the right time to revive world trade talks, and I welcome the Secretary of State's comments on the Doha round. We must not bury trade talks or pander to protectionist instincts. This time, we need to ensure that the talks focus on creating jobs rather than on increasing corporate profits. The UK is one of the leading international donors, and should use its influence at both bilateral and multilateral levels to promote investment in job-rich industries and services, and to make a decent work agenda a core factor in its support for private sector development. Trade agreements must not signal a race to the bottom in terms of income, and they need to be accompanied by firmer agreement on minimum labour standards.

However, another reason why getting greater numbers into the formal economy is important is that we want to create a permanent, stable tax base, which is a key element in reducing dependency on aid. In a world that is changing rapidly-politically, economically and environmentally-we can anticipate greater periods of turbulence, higher food and energy prices, water depletion, fish depletion, and deforestation. Demand growth is accelerating, and the World Bank estimates that food production will need to increase by close to 50% between 2000 to 2030. Increasingly, a nation's resilience in the face of disruption will mark its ability to survive successfully. Those of us who live in richer nations have distinct advantages: strong states, an ability to harness sophisticated technology and highly skilled citizens. To differing degrees, developing countries lack many such advantages, and accordingly have much higher levels of vulnerability.

If the ambitions of the MDGs are to bear fruit, it is important to protect the advances that have already been made before we seek further progress on the targets. Despite the fact that we have made considerable progress since 2000, those who have been taken above absolute poverty remain very close to the threshold. They live in emerging economies, so they are subject to much more pressure and are more vulnerable, and there is a very high risk that they will go back into absolute poverty.

Increasingly, we need to consider innovative ways in which to improve resilience and sustain the improvements that have been made. Rather than focusing only on
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developing basic public services, we need to consider how wealth can be redistributed within societies to achieve social progress, how the voice of the poor can be properly recognised, and how democracy, and thus the accountability of Governments to their citizens, can increase. All three elements are vital to progress on the MDGs.

Christian Aid recently made two specific calls in respect of taxation to aid a fairer distribution. I hope that when he responds, the Minister can provide an assurance that the Government support multilateral, automatic exchange of tax information between tax jurisdictions, so that we can better tackle the pernicious impact of tax havens, and a new international accounting standard that requires corporations to report on profits that they have made in every country where they operate. Those two measures will not cost the UK taxpayer a penny, but they could make a real and substantial difference to millions of the world's poorest. I am sure that they would pass the Secretary of State's value-for-money test.

I should like briefly to address gender. Sadly, it is no surprise that MDG 5, on maternal mortality, is the most off track. Women account for 70% of the world's poor, and because they face systematic discrimination, their opportunities to escape poverty are correspondingly fewer. The interlinked problems of high fertility rates and maternal mortality continue to impede economic and social development. The underlying causes of high fertility, morbidity and mortality are not lack of contraception, blood loss and infection, but rather, as the right hon. Member for Gordon correctly said, apathy and a lack of respect for women and their fundamental rights. One symptom of that is that the data on women and girls are patchy. Key statistics, for example, are available only in about one quarter of developing nations. That in turn leads to women's concerns being given low political priority and to a lack of impetus to change.

I believe that the UK should continue to be at the forefront of working with others to press for voluntary family planning that is universally accessible, and I welcome the Secretary of State's comments this afternoon, but we also need to prioritise support for social and legal measures that stem the widespread practice of early marriage of young girls in many parts of the developing world. For a number of reasons, we in the west have shied away from this issue, but it is fundamental. It goes without saying that getting girls into school is important, but if we simply rely on primary education for success rather than the full range of secondary and tertiary education, we will not make much change.

Sixty per cent. of the world's out-of-school children are girls, and they are less likely to progress to secondary and tertiary education as a result. Children of mothers who can read themselves are likely to achieve significantly higher results and accordingly continue their education longer. Tackling illiteracy, particularly among girls and women needs to have priority if we are going to give women better opportunities. We also need to give greater support to initiatives to encourage girls to continue their education and address the cultural barriers to female employment. Currently, 82 million girls in developing nations who are now aged 10 to 17 will be married before their 18th( )birthday. Where the birth rate in countries has fallen, between 25% and 40% of economic growth is attributable to demographic changes. Tackling
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those issues would bring fundamental and permanent improvement to the rights of women and tackle the millennium development goals on which we are most lagging behind.

What we need most in the year to follow is political will of the type that saw the birth of the MDGs and was prepared to look not just at the latest emergency but at how we want the world to be in the next 10 to 15 years. The outcome of the G20 summit last week was disappointing for development; there is no doubt about that. We need the UK Government to provide continued leadership in the tough times as well as the good. September's summit gives us an opportunity, and I hope that it will be grasped.

2.52 pm

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): I think the whole House will have agreed with the comments by the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) until her peroration about the UK Government not showing leadership. As I hope I will show, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister showed considerable leadership in Canada. Until she spoiled her speech with that last bit, it was actually a very good speech. The whole House is grateful to her for the work that she does on the all-party group on trade, aid and debt.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey) for an outstanding speech, which was fluent, articulate and very much to the point. I am sure that the House will look forward to hearing her speak in future debates on many topics that she also highlighted. It is heartening that the maiden speeches, certainly on this side of the House, have been of the highest quality that the House has heard for many a new Parliament.

I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development in his place. He showed outstanding commitment as shadow Secretary of State and he has shown extreme grip by what he has done already in the Department. I know that he will do an extraordinarily good job for international development during his time as Secretary of State.

Chris Kelly: Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Secretary of State on his fantastic work in Rwanda, where he has led Project Umubano for several years now? He took the then Leader of the Opposition to Rwanda and the then Secretary of State, who is going back to Rwanda this summer, as am I for the second time on this fantastic project.

Tony Baldry: I certainly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend for what he did with the project in Rwanda. It reinforces one of the three points that I want to make.

I am conscious that others want to speak. What I would like to say in this debate can be summed up by one paragraph in the Prime Minister's statement to the House earlier this week on the G8 and G20 summits. He said:

My first point is that it is good to see so many Members in the House this afternoon for a debate on international development. We will all have to recognise, as times get difficult when the spending cuts bite, that we continually need to make the argument that spending on international development is valuable and is in our national interest-in terms of stability, security and a sense of common humanity, and, as the Prime Minister made clear yesterday during Prime Minister's questions, because it enables us to have our voice heard much more clearly in the world. We are also entitled to look for the support of the non-governmental organisations in making that argument.

Secondly, there has, quite rightly, been a lot of talk this afternoon about Britain meeting the 0.7% target by 2013. We are not far off that already. According to the Muskoka accountability report, published at the end of last week's G8 summit, the Development Assistance Committee estimates that in the 2010 calendar year the UK's official development assistance spend will be equivalent to $15.5 billion, or 0.6% of GNI. We are far and away the country that is nearest to meeting that 0.7% target. The nearest to us is France, at 0.46%.

Even with a ring-fenced commitment, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, skilled as he is, will not be able to extract from the Treasury during the lifetime of this Parliament any more than 0.7% of GNI for his Department's budget. That means that if various NGOs or others think that extra money should be spent on a particular policy area, they will have to demonstrate to us all which parts of existing DFID spending should be reduced. DFID is not a bottomless pit, and the situation will become very competitive. If NGOs or pressure groups argue that a particular area of spending should increase, it will be beholden on them to explain to Ministers, and the rest of us, where they think spending should be reduced.

Mr Thomas: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he does not think any further resources should be made available for climate finance, and that if, as a result of the climate negotiations, further resources are asked of the developed world by developing countries, Britain's contribution should not go beyond the 10% that the last Government said would come from DFID, and that other cuts in other programmes in DFID should take place?

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