Previous Section Index Home Page

1 July 2010 : Column 1070

Perhaps most importantly, we need to prevent tax avoidance in developing countries by helping to build and strengthen their tax administration and collection systems. More effective tax collection is vital because not only does it provide a sustainable stream of finance for developing countries but it promotes stronger governance through an accountable state-citizen relationship. The increased stability that it brings significantly enhances the prospects of economic growth.

The UN millennium development goals meeting in New York later this year represents a major opportunity to agree urgent action on behalf of the world's poorest children. Globally, millions of children still have to work to survive and are having their rights denied as a result of poverty. In order to secure the best possible deal, the Government must, from the outset, put forward a clear agenda for the meeting in terms of the key objectives they wish to obtain. Otherwise they will risk having a re-run of the shocking episode that took place over the last weekend.

At a time when people question whether there is a global role for Britain to play in today's world, what better role can there be for us than that of the leading voice for international development?

3.50 pm

Rebecca Harris (Castle Point) (Con): I am very fortunate to have in my constituency two of the only charity shops in Britain that donate all their profits to UNICEF, which campaigns to fight child poverty and exploitation around the globe. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was able personally to give them an award earlier in the year for their sterling fundraising work and to see first hand the dedication of the volunteers and staff who make such a difference to children around the world.

In 2006, before the bubble burst, triggering the global financial crisis, the British public donated more than £33 million just to UNICEF and its global campaigns through direct appeals and fundraising activities in communities all over the UK, including the two shops in my constituency. In 2009, the year after the collapse and at the height of the global financial crisis, the British public donated more than £40 million to UNICEF and its global campaigns. Following the tragic earthquake in Haiti in January, the Disasters Emergency Committee-the umbrella organisation for the independent humanitarian relief agencies in the UK-raised a staggering £38 million in individual donations in less than one week from members of the British public who were horrified by the sheer scale of human suffering thousands of miles from our shores.

It is clear from those facts-I am sure that colleagues from all parties will agree-that the British public have not wavered in their generosity towards alleviating the suffering of the worlds' poorest and most vulnerable people in the face of the world's global financial crisis, and neither should we. However, I am sure that I am not alone in this House in being asked by constituents some searching questions about the Government's commitment to ring-fence the foreign aid budget. There is worry about it, particularly given the pressure across all other budgets as we approach a spending review in the autumn and what will be economically challenging years ahead. Worse still is the sense that the aid budget might be poorly targeted or siphoned off due to corruption.

1 July 2010 : Column 1071

In an era of global responsibility, where 24,000 children die in poverty every day and more than 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day, it is right that we should maintain our international aid budget and do all we can through trade, diplomacy, business investment and climate change policy to ensure that our efforts to help the world's poorest are not damaged by the uncertain state of the global economy. It is also right that in the current economic climate, more than ever every pound of taxpayer's money that we deliver in aid must provide the most value possible and be distributed through a system that is completely transparent.

I am sure that many people in this House were alarmed by recent reports that billions of pounds in cash have been flown out of Kabul airport since 2007, suggesting that huge sums of aid from us and our NATO allies has been falling into the wrong hands and has been used for the wrong purposes. The misuse and mistargeting of international aid resources is still a big obstacle in the fight against global poverty and we need to seek out new ways to guarantee that aid is getting to where it has the greatest effect and does the most to alleviate poverty.

One issue that many people feel strongly about, which we have already covered today, is the aid that we have given to China. In the 2008-09 financial year, we donated £118 billion of aid to the People's Republic, £40 billion of which came through the Department for International Development. By anyone's observation, the British taxpayer is not getting value for money by continuing to give millions of pounds of aid to the second-largest economy in the world. I welcome the Government's commitment to withdraw from its bilateral aid programmes with China and Russia. Similarly, the British taxpayer was not getting value for the money that they expected to go towards tackling global poverty. Millions of pounds were spent on UK-based awareness projects by the Department for International Development under the last Government.

As well as gaining more value for money from our aid budget, it is vital that the giving of all forms of Government aid is as transparent as possible. Taxpayers should easily be able to gain a real understanding of how their money is going to make a difference in the fight against poverty and they should also have access to as much information as possible so that they can form an opinion on where that money should go and on how effectively it is being spent.

I sincerely welcome every commitment that was outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his speech at Oxfam's "21st-Century Aid" report launch earlier this month. I particularly welcome the introduction of the UK aid transparency guarantee to ensure that the most value possible is squeezed out of every pound of aid under this Government and that people can be fully reassured about where their money is going. I also strongly support the clearer linking of aid to the work and ambit of the National Security Council. One of the tragedies of Iraq was the failure to put in place a proper plan to restore and maintain the infrastructure that no doubt extended the insurgency. Linking our development work to our military work and responsibilities is difficult and includes risk. Many of the organisations that we work alongside will no doubt have reservations, but we cannot do anything but regard Afghanistan as a major
1 July 2010 : Column 1072
priority development area. The focus on development and reconstruction is absolutely essential if we are to leave that country able to look after itself. Of course, the NSC allows us to take the broader view on which development projects both have intrinsic moral value and work towards our national security interests in the long term.

In conclusion, I want to underline the generosity and moral focus of the British public towards tackling global poverty, which has strengthened, if anything, in the recent global financial crisis. There is still a monumental battle to fight against global poverty; we are right to protect the aid budget and we look forward to providing greater value and transparency. In doing so, we can not only ensure that we lift as many lives as possible out of poverty but reassure the British taxpayer that international development works not only to the benefit of the developing countries but in Britain's best interests.

3.57 pm

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): May I begin by paying tribute to the hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today? The hon. Members for Wirral West (Esther McVey) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) all made excellent contributions. My contribution will not be anything like as expert as those of my hon. Friends the Members for York Central (Hugh Bayley) and for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin), who made wide-ranging speeches that covered many aspects. I want to highlight two specific points about global poverty, the first of which is the importance of trade, particularly fair trade. The second is the important role of democracy in tackling global poverty, particularly in relation to backing up organised labour in poor countries and supporting people on very low incomes in fragile employment.

On fair trade, we are all aware that aid is not the final answer but a tool to assist economic development. I have felt strongly for many years about the possibilities of Fairtrade labelling. The idea that started many years ago is now coming to fruition: by telling people in consumer countries that the goods that they buy somehow back up people on low incomes in producer companies, we have a mechanism for delivering on economic development. I pay tribute to the previous Government's achievements in supporting the Fairtrade Foundation. There has been a massive expansion of the Fairtrade label, with 70% of people in Britain now recognising the label and understanding what it means-seven out of 10; that is a real achievement. Also, the Fairtrade label has been adopted by major brands in this country. Many people around the UK are choosing to back producers in other countries, and that is a victory.

I put this challenge gently to the Government that they should continue to support the Fairtrade Foundation. We are rightly seeking to reduce the deficit but, although the sums devoted to assisting international organisations to monitor free trade labelling are small, they have the power to do real good. I feel particularly strongly about this matter, as it combines two of my biggest passions in life-shopping, and supporting people on low incomes abroad. I have a personal commitment that I recommend to all Members of the House, and it is that I always buy any new product that carries the Fairtrade label, whatever it is-and then, before we know it, we are always buying
1 July 2010 : Column 1073
Fairtrade coffee, which is great. As I said, I encourage the new Government's Ministers to look at that programme carefully, to see what more we in this country can do to back up Fairtrade.

My second reason for speaking in this afternoon's debate is that I came across an example in my constituency of Wirral South of trade union members in this country backing a campaign being run by trade union members in Pakistan. I found it quite inspiring and I want to share with the House the success that has been achieved but, before I do, I shall read a quotation from the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. He is a fine philosopher and economist who has done extensive research into the subject of famine and food security. He said that

I think that the lesson for us all is that we must support the good functioning of democracy in other countries. We cannot allow a discussion about global poverty to pass without recognising the politics that exists in other countries.

In that light, well-functioning trade unions are especially important. I mentioned that that had been highlighted for me by local members of a trade union in Wirral South. The company Unilever is based in my constituency and, by and large, it is a fine employer. I hear great reports from people in my constituency, who say that it is fantastic to work for. However, Unilever has a tea production plant at Khanewal in Pakistan, where 723 workers were contracted through an agency on a no-work, no-pay basis.

Now, I am from Merseyside, and I grew up with the tales of what used to go on in the Liverpool docks. There are memories in my family of what it was like to go down to the dockside without knowing whether there was any work or whether the family could be fed. Therefore, I feel passionately that we must seek to end these practices, wherever they are. What happened in Liverpool all those years ago was not right, and it is not right if it happens anywhere else in the world today.

The workers in Pakistan had no sick leave or annual leave, and no right to join a trade union, but they organised themselves. With the support of the IUF, an international trade union, they were able to make representations on how to deal with the problems that they faced, and they received support from trade union activists all over the world. Eventually, the IUF helped them to undertake negotiations with Unilever, which took place under the auspices of the UK's national contact point responsible for the application of the OECD's guidelines for multinational enterprises.

The two sides came to a settlement, under the terms of which Unilever agreed to create 200 additional permanent jobs, and many other successful outcomes were also achieved. The IUF general secretary said:

I wanted to highlight that because it is a real success. That shows what people can achieve when they are given the dignity to stand up for themselves and their work, and to influence their terms and conditions. That
1 July 2010 : Column 1074
is one small example, but it is the pattern we need to follow. I call on the Government to work across Whitehall to stand up for low-paid workers internationally.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North had much to say about the importance of considering employment as a factor in poverty, and Professor Sen, whom I quoted, has also investigated that in great depth. We should all learn that the things that we are calling for in other countries are what we would want for our friends and families in employment in this country. I hope the Government go forward on that basis and I look forward to debating such issues in future in this Parliament.

4.6 pm

Joseph Johnson (Orpington) (Con): I congratulate all those who made their maiden speeches today. They have made the afternoon fly by, such has been their quality.

I wish to express my wholehearted support for the vision for UK aid outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, especially in so far as it is driven by a desire to focus the UK programme on outcomes and value for money rather than on inputs and on what quantities of money are shovelled overseas. I particularly welcome his comment that he intends to review the UK's aid relationship with India. As he said, there is now a double duty to demonstrate not only that aid money is well spent but that it is spent where most needed so that the Government can carry the country with them at a time of intense budgetary squeeze and retrenchment.

Under the coalition Government, the Department for International Development is already curtailing aid to China and Russia and promising much greater value for money. I believe that it is time to scale back DFID's substantial India programme. I say that in response to the question asked of the Opposition by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who asked them to show where money could be saved in the DFID budget.

When we look at DFID's expenditure, we see that the India programme is the single largest country programme by quite some distance-it is worth £825 million over the three years to 2011. By my calculations, that means that the flow of grant aid from the UK to India is greater now than at any point for at least the past 20 years and, although I cannot trace the figures, perhaps more than at any time since independence in 1947.

Defenders of the aid programme to India can legitimately argue that progress towards meeting the millennium development goals by 2015 hinges on India-that is quite right. However, nuclear-powered India can now fund its own development needs, considerable though they are in a country that is home to 450 million poor people and a third of the world's malnourished children.

Those who follow Indian affairs will know that it has a defence budget of $31.5 billion and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) mentioned, it has a very ambitious space programme, including plans for an unmanned moon shot. It also has a substantial aid programme of its own. It is obviously not yet at China's stage of development-India is not China-but it is a claimant to a permanent Security Council seat and to a place at the top table of world affairs. As such, it is hardly a natural aid recipient.

1 July 2010 : Column 1075

Of course, the moral arguments are very finely balanced-a poor person is a poor person wherever he or she is in the world-but to my mind, common sense suggests that it is a better idea for the UK to prioritise aid to countries that cannot afford to fund their development over those that take the money just because it is going free. Many other donor countries in recent years have been kicked out of India for being too small-managing their donations was simply too bureaucratic and cumbersome a process to be worth the Indian Government's while. The aid flows of others such as the US peaked 50 years ago in 1960. The US has stated that it is "walking the last mile" in India. The result is that the UK, perhaps inappropriately, now accounts for as much as 30% of all foreign aid to India. That is arguably money that New Delhi could allocate to its own development if it chose to do so. My view is that we must, as the coalition programme states, work towards a new partnership with India for the 21st century -a "new special relationship", as the Conservative manifesto originally put it. It must be based on strong bonds of trade, not anachronistic ones of aid that hark back to a previous relationship between our two countries.

4.11 pm

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I should like to say a few words about the issue raised by the withdrawal of a grant to an organisation based in my constituency, which I raised briefly in an intervention on the Secretary of State. I appreciate that we are considering many issues of great international significance in this debate, and I do not want to take up too much time on what some may regard as a relatively tangential matter, but I want to raise my concerns about the way in which, certainly on the information I have, a small organisation doing good work has been unfairly treated. That decision also raises issues about the Government's approach to development awareness activities in the UK funded by the Department, and the Minister should say something about it in his reply to the debate.

I shall first give some information about the grant that has been withdrawn and the organisation that received it. Hon. Members will recall that at the start of the debate the Secretary of State, as he set out his decisions, headlined one of the five projects from which funding has been withdrawn-a Brazilian-style dance troupe with percussion in Hackney. That project was certainly given some attention in the media. I presume that the only reason why the Secretary of State headlined that project was that "Brazilian-style", "dance troupe with percussion" and above all "Hackney" are phrases that set every bell ringing in the right-wing media and pressure groups. If one mentions "Brazilian-style dance troupe" and "Hackney" together, one does not really have to argue any further in some people's minds. That is an unfortunate approach to the debate and I suspect that it stereotypes that particular group in Hackney. I have no knowledge of the group, but I suspect that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) who intervened on the Secretary of State wanted to suggest that it was somewhat more than the latter had portrayed.

Next Section Index Home Page