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5 pm

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): Sadly, I, like many other Members in the Chamber, have received letters and e-mails from constituents saying that we are going to be subjected to cuts in most departmental budgets, so we should also cut DFID's aid budget. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that "charity begins at home, but it does not end there", because I will be able to go back to my constituents to tell them that we have a duty in this relatively wealthy country to help others.

I know that this will upset many of those correspondents, but I am very pleased to see that the Chancellor, the Prime Minister, and the Secretary of State and his team understand the importance of the budget for developing countries. I congratulate the Secretary of State on the start that he has made in changing the priorities in his Department because, as many Members have said, we need to ensure that money is well spent. There is a lot of corruption and we must ensure that the money goes to the people whom it needs to help and does not just go into the pockets of some politicians. That is why I am particularly keen to see measures put in place that stop that money going astray.

We do have poverty here in Britain, but the poverty in developing countries is very different and we can make a difference. Even in these difficult times, 0.7% of our gross national income is not a huge sum, but it might save some lives and help countries to escape from the worst life expectancy rates and early deaths from disease. Places such as Africa have to deal with many illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS and malaria. If we can help these places by providing the correct medicines at an affordable price and bed nets to save children from mosquito bites, which cause malaria, we will help with the population's education. Children cannot go to school if they are ill; if they do not get an education, they cannot get a job; and the cycle is perpetuated. Much of Africa does have primary education but many children never go to secondary schools. Even if they do, girls may have to miss one week in four because they have no sanitary protection and have to stay at home. That cannot be right in 2010.

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Aid money must be spent well, because we need to reduce the difference in the life expectancy of people in developing countries and that of ourselves-that is crucial to the well-being of these countries. I was one of those people who went on Project Umubano with the Secretary of State, and we saw so many things that impressed us. It is not that the people in these countries are stupid or unable to study; they have fantastic minds, but they do not always have the opportunities.

I have organised my own aid project in a small way in Uganda, so I have seen at first hand what direct aid can do to help communities. Such aid could be for an education project-we constructed one school and helped another to finish the building that included a hall, now called Derby hall, having been named after my constituency-or it could provide a water butt to collect water because there is none on site and people have to walk half a mile to collect it. We started a women's co-operative using old British Singer hand-sewing machines to give AIDS widows the opportunity to learn to make school uniforms and to have an income, rather than live without money.

We are also helping farmers to start to become self-sufficient in growing crops. We give each farmer that has cleared 1 acre of ground 10 kilos of maize seeds to plant. At the end of the season, they give 10 kilos back, replant another 10 kilos for the next season and either sell or consume what is left. That is a highly sustainable way of getting farming off the ground. Those farmers should now be able to make money each season from their very fertile ground, which was previously underused because of a lack of leadership in the area. This year, we have given money to enable some farmers to start growing upland rice on the same principle.

That is just one of many thousands of private projects. The students I have taken out there and I have not changed poverty in Africa, but we have helped one small area of Uganda, and we hope to continue to do so. There are many thousands of projects in Britain helping countries throughout the developing world, and I suggest that we harness that tremendous enthusiasm and get them to work with us-rather like the big society idea and the fact that we are asking people out there what laws and regulations they want to see scrapped. Why not ask churches and schools that have their own projects, along with the many other volunteers, to tell us what has worked for them and whether any projects financed by outside aid have failed? That would give us a clearer insight into the matter. Big charities such as Oxfam do fantastic work, but they sometimes get carried away with what they are doing and do not see what is happening in small pockets of the country where the small groups of volunteers are working.

I should like my project to help in that way, by helping the coalition Government to come up with inventive ideas for helping people in Africa and elsewhere. We have the expertise out in Africa. My project in Uganda is in an area not far from Kampala-it is only two and a half hours' drive away-yet most of the people there had never seen a white person before we started going out to them. As with everything else that the coalition is trying to do, we need to ensure that there is value for money, and that every pound we spend in a developing country gets to where it can make the maximum difference to the real people, and not to corrupt politicians.

Rwanda's President has a fantastic vision of what he wants his country to be like, and it is possible to see the
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difference that he has made, year on year. It is a clean country that is improving its environment day by day. In fact, it is the cleanest African country I have ever been to. Much of Kigali has pavements, which few other poor countries would even think of having. That is because the President has a vision of what he wants his country to achieve.

Uganda has oil, but I fear that the people will not benefit from any revenue. Oil could put the country into a completely new ball game, providing money for decent housing, sanitation, education and better health care. We have a duty to persuade Presidents in this situation to use their country's natural resources to produce wealth to help everyone, not just themselves. I urge the Secretary of State to take this into account whenever he speaks to the leaders of such countries. Those Presidents should enable their countries to become self-sufficient through their own wealth, and give it to the people to spend rather than spending it on their own pet projects. That would create wealth-generating communities, and we would need to provide less aid, which in turn would enable us to help more people in other countries, rather than having to spread the aid too thinly.

5.8 pm

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I congratulate those hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today, including my hon. Friends the Members for Wirral West (Esther McVey) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland), and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk).

Last year, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), whom I welcome to his position as Secretary of State, wrote:

I fully agree with that. He has made a compelling case for the importance of the UK's international development programme. That case is a moral case, and we have heard the reasons behind it, including the fact that 25,000 children die of preventable diseases every day. However, there is also a case to be made for our national interest, and I would go beyond saying that it lies simply in ensuring that people no longer wish to flee the conditions in their own countries to seek a better life elsewhere. That is part of it, but I would echo the words of Sir Terry Leahy this week. He said that

He went on to say:

leading to

I pay credit here to the work of the previous Government on international aid.

For much of my working life, I have worked in developing countries in business and I therefore declare an interest. I remember that in the late 1980s there was always a lot of tension between those involved in business and those involved in development. These days, it is very different. It is accepted that the best way to tackle poverty is through economic development and that the private sector will play the leading role in that. Indeed, the private sector has come a long way in recognising that it, too, has social responsibilities. It recognises that
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Government and development organisations are its partners. If there is no functioning health system, its staff and customers will suffer. If schools are inadequate, where will it recruit the staff that it needs? I have the good fortune of being married to a doctor who ran a health education programme for 11 years in Tanzania, and she always reminded me of the importance of that sector.

There are three areas in which aid has an important role to play in economic development. The first is agriculture, which has been so eloquently described by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood). There was a tendency in some parts of the developing world to see agriculture, and in particular smallholder agriculture, as a business of the past, to be superseded by the brave new world of state-owned industry. Many of those factories have long ceased to function while the smallholders continue to earn their living from the land.

Agriculture is a business of the future, certainly in Britain, in my constituency and around the world. Any country, including ours, that ignores the potential of agriculture does so to its cost. The OECD's report on sustainable agriculture states that in 2005 to 2030, food demand is expected to increase by 50% across the world. That is a huge opportunity for farmers in developing countries. Agriculture, especially on small farms, is an excellent way to promote economic development. The International Fund for Agricultural Development has found that a healthy agricultural sector acts as a multiplier in local economies, spurring higher incomes and increasing access to markets. That is why I am delighted that the Secretary of State has highlighted agriculture as an essential building block of wealth creation.

The second area in which aid is important is small businesses, which have been mentioned. I might as well say "other small businesses", as smallholder farmers are business men and business women. In the UK, we recognise small and medium-sized enterprises as the engine of the economy, and it should be no different in developing countries. Employment and unemployment are critical, as the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) said, yet anyone wishing to set up a business in many developing countries faces great problems: the cost of registration, tax authorities that often want taxes to be paid before the business has started trading, and, above all, lack of finance. That was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), who talked about microfinance.

Of course, the growth of microfinance has been a great success story in the past 15 years, but there is a gap between microfinance and the level at which private risk capital will lend-typically, $50,000 or $100,000 and above. Banks do not fill the gap and they usually require security, which the entrepreneur cannot provide. I urge the Secretary of State to consider how the UK can work to overcome that financing gap. It is not straightforward, as I know from being involved over the past six years in helping to finance small businesses in Tanzania through a charity, but it can be done. Well-managed revolving equity or quasi-equity funds enable a pound of aid to be used several times over. The Secretary of State rightly emphasises the importance of the effectiveness of aid, and that is an opportunity.

The third area in which aid is important is infrastructure. It is of little use to produce crops only for them to rot in
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the field because they cannot reach the market. Transport costs in Africa have been estimated to be on average double those in Asia. Infrastructure projects in the past have been riddled with corruption and beset by special interests, but if countries come forward with serious business cases for not only building but maintaining the necessary infrastructure, we should look at them. As the Conservative party's Green Paper states

I have spoken about agriculture and infrastructure, and to some this might seem a throwback to the early days of international development. People might point out that many countries have not yet thrown off the shackles of poverty, but it was precisely because agriculture was ignored for 20 years and infrastructure was built and not maintained that the benefits of that investment were often not realised. What is, perhaps, new is the appreciation at last that no country will develop economically without allowing its small businesses, including smallholder farmers, to flourish. Give them firm property rights, fair taxation, access to affordable finance that will not take the shirt off their back if things go wrong, and a good basic infrastructure, and they will create the jobs that are so desperately needed. They will also create the tax revenues that will pay for the health, education and other services on which they depend, as well as the stability without which no real development is possible.

5.15 pm

Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) on their excellent maiden speeches. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), whom I met at the beginning of her 10-year journey. I think I will remember her class P for ever.

There has been much talk since the emergency Budget about austerity and hardship, and it will be a tough few years for many as we deal with the excesses of the past and move our country back on to the road to recovery. As a developed nation with a Government who are committed to the principles of responsibility, freedom and fairness, we cannot turn our backs, even in these difficult times, on those in greater need than ourselves.

As we are talking about the ongoing challenges caused by global poverty, it will be useful to define poverty. The World Bank says that people who live on less than $1.25 a day in developing countries are living in poverty. That is the level of income deemed necessary to fulfil basic human needs in the developing world, where some 1.4 billion people have been living below that poverty line. We need to address that. The concept of poverty is brought to life more vividly by this World Bank description:

None of us can listen to that description without feeling a call to action and a need to do all we can to address the unfair balance that is suffered by people purely because of the lottery of where they were born.

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Many people have talked about the eight millennium development goals, which represent the human and basic needs that every individual around the world should be able to enjoy, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) has described those goals. The confirmation of the goals was a real step forward in international efforts to combat global poverty, but, as the Secretary of State said this morning, measurable outcomes of the goals are needed to make them effective.

It is fair to say that progress has been made, with some countries achieving many of the targets, but others are not on track to achieve any. Key successes include the significant progress towards eradicating poverty, the major progress on getting children into school, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, and the reduction in child deaths owing to HIV/AIDS, malaria and other infectious diseases. However, the report on the goals concedes that progress has been severely challenged, particularly given the global economic crisis of the past few years. Without a major push forward, many of those goals are likely to be missed. We need to address that.

There is considerable regional variation, with areas such as eastern Asia benefiting most from the continued economic growth in China and India. In contrast, sub-Saharan Africa suffered from low levels of economic growth and faced significant challenges to reaching targets. Even within countries, there are major differentials between rural and urban areas, which we must address. We have to get aid to where it is really needed.

There has been some criticism of the implementation of the G8-backed funds, which some believe have at times been hijacked to pay for natural disasters. Although worthy, that use of the money might not have a direct impact on the achievement of development goals. Others have criticised the distribution of funds, suggesting that elements of cronyism can be detected in the allocation of funds. Some feel that not enough has been done to tackle corruption in the countries receiving aid and to ensure that aid gets to the right places. However, despite increases in international development aid over the following years, in 2007 a total of $103.7 billion was committed, which represented only 0.28% of developed countries' GNP. We still have some way to go to achieve our goal, but I welcome the announcement made by the Prime Minister at this week's G8 summit in Canada. He confirmed the UK's commitment to 0.7% of GNP being spent on international aid, and said it was an

I have been fortunate, in my time as an ambassador for ActionAid and as part of the Leaders' Quest programme, to have visited many countries that suffer extremes of poverty. They include China, India, Mozambique, South Africa, and I also visited Rwanda with the Secretary of State. Although seeing the difficulties that people face every day can be distressing, more often than not I have found it to be an uplifting experience and have been inspired by those who have so little.

Sometimes, not only money but connections make a difference. I found that with the school twinning exercise that I organised between Kayonza modern secondary school in Rwanda and Brentford school for girls in my constituency. Many of the people I have met have been full of hope and optimism for the future, just looking for a way to help themselves get out of the situation that they have found themselves in through no fault of their own. The famous Chinese proverb states:

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In the same way, providing support for building skills and education is critical to creating the self-sustaining cycle that will break developing countries out of poverty.

As I said, it is not sufficient just to provide effective aid internationally. We also need to ensure that there are fair global policies in place to ensure access to finance and remove trade barriers so that developing countries are able to compete in the global marketplace. Alison Evans, the director of the Overseas Development Institute, put this succinctly when she said:

It is critical that Governments from the developed world play their role in ensuring fair practices to support developing nations. I visited sugar plantation farmers in Mozambique who were desperate to be able to trade with us to create a strong, stable and sustainable economy for the long term in their country. They pleaded with us to remove EU tariff barriers so that they could achieve that.

In my constituency of Brentford and Isleworth is a company called Microloan Foundation. We have heard already from my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) about the role that microfinance can play. What Microloan Foundation does is a real example of how we can provide loans to people in rural areas to enable them to set up their own self-sustaining businesses. Peter Ryan, the founder of Microloan Foundation, said:

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