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3.26 pm

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab): I, too, would like to make my maiden speech and contribute to the debate. Before I do that, however, I would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland). I was particularly pleased to hear that there are very few traffic lights in Stevenage, which makes me concerned that there are far too many in Rochdale.

As is customary, I would like to start by paying tribute to my Liberal Democrat predecessor. Paul Rowen prided himself on being Rochdale born and bred, and I have no doubt that he would have contributed to this debate. Indeed, he devoted much of his time to overseas issues and was often a champion for countries such as Bangladesh, Uganda and Kashmir. I am sure that he will be sadly missed by those with an interest in such issues.

I also want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Mr Woolas), who had Milnrow and New Hey within his constituency boundaries until general election day. He is an exceptionally good MP, and I consider him to be a good friend.

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Although Rochdale is commonly perceived as a classic Lancashire town with problems of its own, there is also much debate about international affairs. I started as the candidate in 2007, and it was not long before people were impressing on me the importance of the problems faced by the Palestinian people. The concern was so great from people in Rochdale, who felt passionately about Palestine, that in 2008 I visited the west bank for myself. The most saddening aspect of the situation is that the poverty experienced by the Palestinians is caused by an Israeli state that seems, to me at least, determined to wear the people down, to push them into a smaller and smaller area, with fewer and fewer resources, and to hide the Palestinian people behind what can only be described as an apartheid wall. Although our Governments find a strong voice to criticise other countries whose actions inflict such poverty on their neighbours, for some reason our Governments cannot or will not speak up enough on the Palestinians' plight.

Earlier this year I visited Bangladesh, and I hope to visit Pakistan and Kashmir in the near future. There are lots of Rochdale residents whose origins are in those three countries. The reason I mention them today is that although poverty exists in those countries, there is also much potential for economic growth. We as a country need to do what we can to help them prosper, so that the poverty can be reduced. What we can also do for those countries is help them learn the lessons that the people in Rochdale have already learned about asbestos. Rochdale was home to the largest asbestos manufacturing plant in the world, and residents have suffered and continue to suffer from this deadly product. Indeed, Spodden valley, where the factory was located, is still heavily contaminated, yet we have developers wanting to build on it-something that I will continue to oppose.

The lessons learned in Rochdale are important. There are companies in developing countries that are playing fast and loose with asbestos, still creating years of illness, injury and death, which then leads to poverty for the families involved. That is why the global economy is so important. The jobs provided by the asbestos plant in Rochdale are long gone to businesses abroad-but at what cost to human life? Many of Rochdale's textile mills and engineering firms have also gone abroad and we find ourselves in a position where unemployment remains unhealthily high. Our town centre has gradually deteriorated to the point where we have about 50 empty shops and a real loss of retail jobs.

The previous Government did much to invest in Rochdale, but that investment was not always handled well locally. Rochdale's Kingsway business park has got off to a slow start; the council has not handled our town centre's redevelopment well; and we now face financial delays and cuts. The new Government have put our transport interchange on hold, there are question marks over school building funds and they are proposing to close our magistrates court.

Although I have described a relatively bleak picture, there are many positives associated with Rochdale. Our football club moved up a division this year after languishing in the bottom of the league for more than 30 years-well done, lads. We have some amazing countryside, including Hollingworth lake, and great architecture such as our town hall. As many will know, Rochdale is the birth place of the Co-op, and co-operation continues with communities coming together cohesively. The churches
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and mosques and the voluntary sector do a fantastic amount of work across our town, and we have many excellent businesses and local entrepreneurs.

It is our people for which the town is most famous. They are the warmest and most honest people anyone could wish to meet. Hon. Members may not be aware of it, but during the general election, the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), had the opportunity to receive a real Rochdale welcome. I spoke with Mrs Duffy just before her conversation with the former Prime Minister and I have also met her subsequently. On a serious point, she is a very good woman; she was articulating what many people feel, which is that times are tough and that it is ordinary working people who are feeling the pain.

Sadly, I genuinely do not believe that ordinary working people are going to be helped by this Government's Budget or its cuts. For instance, I, like many other people, was brought up on free school meals in a one-parent family helped by the welfare state. It was hardly surprising that I left school with no qualifications and little confidence to get on in life, but it was the availability of further education and the support of my trade union that combined to create a second chance for me. Now is not the time to attack public institutions that are vital for working people to move on in life. My worry now for the people of Rochdale, and for the people of Britain, is that the VAT increase, the cutting of free school meals, the growth in unemployment, the cuts to public services-all these things and more-will recreate the 1980s society in which I grew up, and that the second chances will no longer exist.

I am in no doubt that my primary responsibility as the MP for Rochdale is to fight for opportunities in our town, to make sure our people receive the life chances that are available in many other parts of the United Kingdom, and to make sure that Rochdalians are given the hope to succeed. It is a privilege to represent the people of Rochdale, and I will work hard in that endeavour.

Several hon. Members rose -

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. As Members can probably see, a great many wish to speak. If contributions can be limited to 10 minutes or less, I may manage to fit everyone in. May I gently remind Members that others wish to contribute to this important debate?

3.35 pm

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will keep it brief.

I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Wirral West (Esther McVey) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland), and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk), on their excellent and thoughtful maiden speeches.

More than 60 years ago, the Beveridge report was published. It identified the five giants that threatened Britain in the wake of post-war reconstruction: want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. It showed a country scarred by the events of the great depression-one of the worst financial disasters that the world has ever witnessed-and sought to find a way in which to bring
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about a fairer society. Perhaps now, in the wake of the most recent recession-the deepest since the 1930s-we should reflect on how to reconstruct a fairer global community.

Fortunately, in our own country we have made great strides in tackling each of the five giants that Beveridge identified. Elsewhere across the world, people have not been so lucky. The facts and figures may be over-told, but they still make for sobering reading. According to the most recent millennium development goals report from the United Nations, 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 per day, while it is believed that more than half the world lives on less than $10 per day; 17% of the world are undernourished; 11% of the world's children still do not receive a primary school education; 74 out of every 1,000 children die before they are five years old; 536,000 women and young girls die every year across the world as a consequence of complications in pregnancy; despite falling infection rates, about 2 million people die of AIDS every year; and 36% of people in the developing world live in poor housing. The statistics go on and on.

As we enter a new decade, has the time not come for the developed world to put an end to rhetoric and meet the fundamental challenges that confront the world in dealing with global poverty? The most important of those challenges is economic development, an issue that has been brought further to the fore by the global economic crisis. It is believed that, as a result of that crisis, nearly 100 million more people have remained in poverty than would otherwise have been the case.

According to the United Nations, while productivity-a primary indicator of economic development-has steadily risen in the developed world, productivity in the developing world has been sluggish. Between 1998 and 2008, output per person employed-measured in 2005 United States dollars-rose from $60,000 to $71,000 among those working in the developed regions, while in the developing regions output per person rose from $8,000 to $11,000. That is just over a quarter of the growth of the developed world. Limited increases in productivity indicate that an economy has little potential to create new jobs. Moreover, that can lead to stagnant wages, which keep hundreds of millions in poverty and prevent the creation of the stable domestic markets that are essential to further economic progress.

The link between economic development and reducing poverty seems obvious, but while a great deal of the focus has been on aid, it ignores the necessity of encouraging growth in developing countries. That is less eye-catching and more difficult to achieve, but in the long term it will produce better results.

A report published in 2006 by USAID, the United States Agency for International Development, highlighted the position of South Korea and Ghana. In 1950, South Korea's per capita income was $770. Ghana's was slightly higher, at $1,222. By 2000, however, South Korea's per capita income had risen to $14,000, while Ghana's remained at around $1,280. The figures for life expectancy, literacy and infant mortality have improved dramatically in South Korea since 1950, but the problems continue to dog Ghana. That is despite the hundreds of millions of pounds given to Ghana by Britain alone over the past few decades.

Although I do not doubt the necessity of aid to assist people in developing countries who live in poverty, we must not allow ourselves to mistake aid for the cure.
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Aid must be used as a short-term means in order to achieve economic development, which is the long-term end. Schools and hospitals, the beginnings of a solid infrastructure, are the things that aid can help to achieve. However, the real work of lifting people out of poverty will be done only by a growing economy, with the creation of jobs and rising wages.

That work can be done enough through encouraging a fiscal and administrative reform. Countries can, thus, be helped to adopt tax systems that are fairer, easier to implement, less vulnerable to corruption and less distorting to economic activity, in order to help to develop transparency. We also need to ensure that strong monetary frameworks are in place. I am glad, therefore, that the Government have taken such a keen interest in ensuring that economic development is placed at the heart of our poverty-reduction strategy. I welcome, for example, our support for a pan-African free trade area, which we hope will lead to the greater development of markets within developing countries and help to generate a cycle of prosperity.

Moreover, an issue that goes hand in hand with economic development is that of governance. As was worryingly reported only a few years ago by the National Audit Office, aid is often open to abuse. Poverty reduction budget support-that is money given directly to the Governments of recipient countries-represents more than £1 billion of DFID's budget and is the preferred method of distribution. That comes with the risk of funds going missing and being misdirected for the private gain of individuals within Governments. We must ensure that Governments that receive this aid do not do this, and I welcome the coalition's commitment to supporting the development of local democracy and civil society in order to create the environment necessary for stable governance to follow. Moreover, the commitment to ensuring that there is full transparency in aid and to publishing details of all UK aid spending is also a step in the right direction.

Aid given by this country has the potential to help tens of millions of people across the world and, as part of larger multilateral packages, to help hundreds of millions. However, I am reminded of the fact that the Department that deals with reducing global poverty is called the "Department for International Development". That title recognises the simple truth that development-in particular, economic development-holds the key to reducing and eventually eliminating global poverty. As we look forward to tackling the great giants of global poverty, we should ensure that we place long-term economic development before eye-catching spending commitments. I am glad that the Government seem to be taking that course, and I hope that they continue in that direction.

3.43 pm

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): First, I congratulate all the new Members who made their maiden speeches today: the hon. Members for Wirral West (Esther McVey) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland), and, in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk), who so powerfully highlighted the plight of the Palestinian people. I am sure that he will be a great voice for peace, equality and
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justice throughout this Parliament, and I congratulate him on his election to this House. I also congratulate the Secretary of State for International Development on his new role and wish him all the best in his endeavours. I am also delighted to see the Chair of the Select Committee on International Development in the Chamber, and I look forward to serving with him on that Committee.

In this country, we are extremely proud of the fact that everyone has access to clean water, nutritious food, quality health care and a first-rate education, thus ensuring that everyone has a good basic standard of living based on equitable principles. If we really do believe in such rights and principles, we cannot limit their application to ourselves alone. In this regard-I use a legal phrase here-equity truly is equality. I strongly believe in the principles of equality and justice, both at home and abroad-indeed, they are the very reasons why I engaged in the political process in the first place. I passionately believe that every child, regardless of where they were born, should have the same chances in life.

Many hon. Members, in their travels to and from Parliament on the underground, may have seen the amazing photo of a young African boy playing football with his friends. The caption reads:

This incredibly moving charitable advertisement highlights the fact that even while the entire world is gripped with the outcomes of the football World cup, there are still millions of people around the world, many of them children, who are fighting poverty on a daily basis. Surely, in this day and age, that cannot be right. This is an age that the formidable former Member of Parliament Tony Benn has described as one in which

I am fiercely proud of my party's record on international development while in government. Since 1997, we have created a dedicated Department for International Development, and Britain's aid budget has trebled, helping to lift an estimated 3 million people out of poverty. Britain was the first country to sign up to the United Nations agreed target of spending 0.7 % of gross national income on development assistance. We have also led the way in cancelling debts owed by the world's poorest countries, and we are now the world's second largest bilateral humanitarian aid donor. We have stopped aid being tied to commercial interests, enabling poor countries to use the money to buy goods and services from the most cost-effective sources. That is a legacy that we on these Benches are rightly extremely proud of, but it is also a legacy that must be built upon, not diminished, because a tremendous amount of work remains to be done.

Approximately 80% of people in the world still live on less than $10 a day. Thousands of people die every day due to lack of food, and nearly 30% of children in the developing world are estimated to be underweight. Millions of people die every year due to preventable diseases, around half a million women die every year while giving birth, and more than 1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. The list is endless.

I really cannot stress enough to the Government the importance of continuity, through ensuring that the millions of people we have helped over the past 13 years do not fall back into poverty and through continuing to
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take millions more out of poverty every year. We can do that only by maintaining pressure on the international community and working with our international partners to ensure that the eight millennium development goals-ending poverty and hunger, universal education for children, the elimination of gender inequality in education, improving child health, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, achieving environmental sustainability, and the creation of a global partnership for development-are all met.

The millennium development goals have galvanised extraordinary efforts to help the world's poorest people, but it is widely considered unlikely that they will be achieved by the 2015 deadline, especially following the results of the recent G8 meeting and the G20 summit. I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) in his question to the Prime Minister yesterday when he said that our commitments to international development must be maintained because

Hon. Members will therefore appreciate how hugely disappointed I was to learn that the Prime Minister did not manage to persuade other members of the G8 to stick to the historic aid commitments that they had made at Gleneagles, which were kept out of last weekend's G20 communiqué. This is doubly disappointing when we consider the fact that the global economic downturn is having a devastating effect on the lives of millions of the world's most vulnerable people.

The failure of France, Germany and particularly Italy to deliver on the commitments that they made at Gleneagles represents an unforgivable betrayal of the world's poorest people, because, in the words of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,

For international development to be effective, it has to be a truly global effort on behalf of all developed nations. The Government must therefore do more to ensure that the future of the world's poorest remains high not only on their agenda but on the agendas of other members of the international community.

If we are to address global poverty, we must address its root causes by making the global economy work better for the poorest nations. On a practical level, that means that we must ensure that the consistent and coherent approach adopted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander)-to whose contribution as the former Secretary of State for International Development I pay tribute-is kept as a part of our international trade policies by firmly placing development as their core guiding principle.

We also need to reform global financial institutions such the World Bank and International Monetary Fund by making their decision making processes more transparent and inclusive. We need to do much more to monitor and regulate international business and the impact that it has on the environment, because the effects of climate change are making it even harder than before to tackle global poverty. Developing nations now need significant sums of additional finance just to help them adapt to climate change.

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