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"The challenge of building the operation from the 'ground up' has resulted in the creation of a social model which, coupled with strong business management, is beginning to yield exceptionally good results."
This week, the company launched its Pennies for Life campaign, and I encourage everyone to join it. People who sign up pay an extra lp every time they buy something, and that money helps to support this microfinance initiative. This is a great success story.
Finally, I believe that, even in these difficult times, as a developed country we must do our utmost to maintain our commitment to eradicating the causes of global poverty. In so doing, we will all benefit from a safer and more secure world.
I applaud the UN's efforts to focus the hearts and minds of the developing nations on making progress towards reducing global poverty, and the role that the millennium development goals have played in that regard.
As we move forward, I believe that we need to focus on the best way to translate the MDGs into bottom-up, practical projects that achieve the shared objectives as well as value for money in terms of aid spent. I endorse what the Government are doing with their aim of transparency and their desire to address the causes of poverty.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con):
Some sceptics say that charity begins at home and use that argument to resist spending on international aid. I agree that charity begins at home, but it depends how one defines the
word "home". There are geographic boundaries but there are also moral boundaries, and we are all neighbours. Just because someone lives thousands of miles away does not mean that the moral boundaries are any different. We should be building bridges, not walls. When aid is well spent, it is hugely in the national interest. I know that the Secretary of State is aware of that, as he came to my constituency before the election and met the paralympian Anne Wafula Strike, who does so much work with Africa. However, for aid to work we need three things-more bilateral aid, more know-how and more transparency.
I believe that aid must cut out the middle man. For example, why do we often give aid through the EU, for the EU to distribute? Why do we not give it directly? Why not give more aid directly to schools and other community institutions? The localism for which we yearn here is yearned for abroad as well. As the policy paper "One World Conservatism" states, when aid is well spent, it
"has worked miracles: eliminating smallpox, almost eradicating polio...helping get millions of children into school and saving millions of families from hunger and disease."
The best form of aid is sharing expertise and knowledge-know-how. Many of my hon. Friends spoke about Project Umubano in Rwanda, which I have been privileged to go on for two years to teach English. People are hungry not only for food and work but for knowledge. Voluntary Service Overseas does a huge amount to share concrete practical skills. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy, with which I worked a few years ago in Uganda and Tanzania through the Conservative party, shares knowledge with democratic parties abroad. All the evidence shows that greater democracy means less poverty. By democracy, I mean not just regular elections but the rule of law and property rights. Perhaps in future, as part of the sharing of expertise, businesses could sponsor aid apprentices through their social responsibility initiatives to build up technical capacity overseas.
On transparency, we need a much clearer idea of where our money is going. When Hillary Clinton pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in new aid to Palestine in 2009, she said that it must not benefit Hamas. Why? Because she knew that aid to the Palestinian Authority had ended up in the wrong hands in the past. That is just one of many examples from around the world, but it proves that transparency must be at the heart of what we do and what we demand from our partners.
That is why the revolution in open government is welcome. Taxpayers ought to be able to track overseas aid on the internet from the moment it is allocated to the moment the results are delivered. I also welcome the proposal in "One World Conservatism" for the £40 million "MyAid" fund, which would be controlled by taxpayers, because it would introduce popular competition among aid projects and increase democratic control.
"Nothing that is morally wrong can be politically right."
Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome this early opportunity to debate global poverty, but with the UN's poverty summit so close, this debate could and should have been on the Second Reading of Labour's 0.7 % legislation. As I reviewed the speeches of the Secretary of State and the Minister in preparation for this debate, I saw many of the themes and examples that recent Ministers have used, so I certainly warmly welcome many of the concerns highlighted by the Secretary of State. However, recent events and the debate have revealed both the lack of action at a key moment by the coalition Government and a lack of strategy for the Department's future work. That should alarm hon. Members and those outside the House who see the declaration in 2000 that gave birth to the millennium development goals as a direct challenge to our generation to help the world's poorest.
We heard three excellent maiden speeches, the first of which was from the hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey). The pupils of class P at Hayfield school can indeed be proud of their work in support of the 1GOAL campaign, and indeed for influencing their Member of Parliament to speak up on their behalf. She rightly raised the continuing plight of 72 million children who are still denied the opportunity of an education.
The hon. Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) also made an excellent maiden speech. It takes a certain talent to work Led Zeppelin and Robbie Williams into a speech on global poverty, but he did so with some panache. He also raised the important issue of access to medicines and the need for continuing work on that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) made a particularly impressive maiden speech, deploying humour about one particular election moment to make a nevertheless important point about the views of many of his and, I suspect, all our constituents. As someone who has the honour to chair the Co-operative party outside this House, and having attended the Co-operative Congress in Plymouth only last weekend, I warmly welcomed my hon. Friend's reference to the contribution of the Rochdale pioneers to this country. In the context of this debate, I welcomed his reminder about the profound challenges facing the Palestinians, and his call for all of us to do more to help them was particularly timely.
We heard a strong speech from the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) who, having worked for Oxfam and helped organise the Gleneagles rally five years ago, has real authority on these issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) crucially reminded us of the importance of the decent work agenda and the continuing need to champion labour standards. Together with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar), whose election to the International Development Committee I welcome, she raised the important need for progress on tax issues, which, as she rightly reminded us, Christian Aid does so much to champion so well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) reminded us that we all need to continue to buy Fairtrade goods-a point also raised by the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood). She also referred to the need for democracy and a strong civil society as basic pre-requisites for development progress,
making a particularly acute point about the role of trade unions in civil society, which was heard, I noted, in absolute silence by Government Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) and the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) made strong cases for continuing investment in developing countries. In the case of the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon, her argument was spoilt only by two mild reproaches to my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander), which I suspect were designed more to please those on her Front Bench rather than made because she took them particularly seriously. I was tempted to put a membership form for the Labour party in the post to her, so good was her speech.
The Secretary of State highlighted the particular challenges of unsafe abortion. It would have been helpful if he had mentioned the last US Republican Administration, who bear a particularly heavy responsibility for the fact that more progress was not made more quickly in their eight years to provide proper facilities for women to have an abortion. The previous Government strongly supported investment in health care to tackle this issue directly and funded international bodies such as the United Nations Population Fund and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which remain pivotal to further progress.
I also welcome the Secretary of State's interest in the broader issue of maternal mortality. We committed to scale up support for maternal and newborn health to help save the lives of 6 million mothers and babies by 2015; so if the right hon. Gentleman intends to continue our work in this area, I certainly welcome that commitment.
I worry about the growing number of aid sceptics in the Conservative party. The honest speech of the hon. Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) was an interesting example of that. I wonder whether that is the reason why the Secretary of State will not or cannot announce a timetable for introducing legislation to put the 0.7% contribution goal on our statute book yet.
The Secretary of State made important points about the case for development, which I welcome. There is a moral case for not standing by in countries such as Zimbabwe and Burma, where the Governments are failing to help their peoples, as well as for helping Governments in countries such as Zambia, Malawi and Ghana, who want to do the right thing by their people, to build up their economies, health systems and school systems.
The right hon. Gentleman also made the crucial point that there is a strong self-interest for Britain in championing the needs of developing countries, perhaps most acutely at the moment in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a point touched on by the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) in the final Back-Bench speech of the debate.
What is now needed is action to back up those fine sentiments from the Secretary of State. The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central were right when they made it clear that other countries must meet their commitments on aid. It is for exactly that reason that the failure to fight at the G8 for meaningful language on the Gleneagles commitments is a deeply worrying
sign of the extent to which the Government are really willing to champion the needs of the world's poorest. A supposedly new initiative on maternal health, with no extra money behind it, is frankly a dismal return from the Prime Minister's first international outing. Indeed, his failure to fight for the world's poorest does not augur well for any effort the new Government are intending to put in to make a success of the UN review of progress to meet the millennium development goals in September. If the Secretary of State cannot get his own leader, or even No. 10 staff, to press for the world's poorest at meetings of the richest nations in the world, it suggests that his influence at the heart of Government is not particularly high. Coming so soon after the Gracious Speech, which talks not of legislation on the target of aid being 0.7% of GNI but of a mere parliamentary mention, challenging scrutiny of his performance is what the right hon. Gentleman must now expect from Opposition Members.
Tony Baldry: The hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) have played on this point. The hon. Gentleman makes assertions about the Prime Minister not doing enough in Canada, but what is his evidence? I can only assume that he was not in the House for the Prime Minister's statement on Monday, when he made it very clear that he had stressed the importance of transparency and accountability, and of meeting the MDG targets. What my right hon. Friend said to the House bears no relation to the travesty of the facts being put forward by the Opposition today.
Mr Thomas: With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, the fact that this G8 communiqué was the first in five years not to include any mention of the Gleneagles commitments and that organisations as significant as Oxfam-which he has praised in the past-damned the communiqué and the actions of the Government for failing to get such language included should be a gentle reminder to him of why we are concerned about the Government's performance.
Malcolm Bruce: I can understand the Labour party's desire to protect its record, but has not the problem been that we have had a commitment to the Gleneagles goals in every communiqué from every G8 in the last five years-and absolutely no delivery? Words are no use unless we get delivery.
Mr Thomas: I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has been elected to resume the chairmanship of the Select Committee. The notion that there was no delivery on the Gleneagles commitments in the last five years is simply wrong. I accept that there was not enough delivery, and the hon. Member for Banbury and others are right to say that some countries need to do more. The Secretary of State has yet to prove that his Department is as influential and as central as it was before 6 May.
Mr Andrew Mitchell:
I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman, of whom, as he knows, I am a great champion, should descend to this level. What matters about Gleneagles is that those solemn commitments, made, rightly, in front of the whole world community and its press, should be acted on. If, after the debate, he looks at the
reports that have come out of the summit, reads the statement made by the Prime Minister and sees what organisations such as ActionAid said about the summit, he will see that our Prime Minister banged the drum for standing by those commitments and made it absolutely clear that Britain's commitment leads on this point.
Mr Thomas: I want to champion the right hon. Gentleman's career, too, and I suspect that he will need me to, so I say gently to him that the G8 was the international community's pivotal meeting before the UN's poverty summit, and not to refer to the Gleneagles commitments in the communiqué sends a powerful signal to the rest of the international community, which, I worry, will be a signal for them not to do what they should do at the UN poverty summit in September. It would be a terrible shame if the Department developed a reputation as the place where the Prime Minister sends not only those he does not want to sack yet, but those he does not want around. I hope that I am wrong, but I fear that the Secretary of State and the Minister are in danger of becoming Parliament's answer to Jedward: they are both political treasures, and there is plenty of sympathy for them and a strange fascination about what they will do next, but at one performance soon neither will be in their usual place.
As my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State said, what is striking about the Secretary of State's speech today and, indeed, his speeches so far outside the House is the lack of any clear strategy for the Department. Under the previous Government, DFID sat at the heart of development thinking. It was sought out by Governments internationally, valued in Europe and respected by development bodies throughout the globe, from UNICEF, which the hon. Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) mentioned, to the Grameen bank, which the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) rightly praised.
Under this Government, the Department should be at the centre of development thinking, but it simply is not yet. It could champion reform of the World Bank, which, despite doing a lot of good, needs to evolve quickly, get its staff out of Washington and into the African countries that it is supposed to help, and continue the reform of its governance. However, there has been nothing from the right hon. Gentleman on that issue yet. Under him, DFID could champion reform of the UN development system in order to help all developing countries, including those with whom we do not have bilateral aid programmes. It could continue to demand a change to how the UN humanitarian system works-or, in the case of Haiti, did not work anything like well enough. The Department could demand that UN agencies work together better in developing countries, but we have heard nothing from the right hon. Gentleman on that topic, either. He could certainly lead the development community on highlighting the finance that is necessary to help developing countries deal with the impact of climate change, but there has been radio silence on that issue, too.
What signal does the right hon. Gentleman think the £10 million loan that he announced today to the Turks and Caicos Islands sends to his Back Benchers, who are desperate to see more impact made in developing countries
to help the needs of the world's poorest? The lack of clarity about the Government's strategy for the UN's millennium summit was particularly striking in his speech, because he spoke more about what he will not fund and will not do than about what he will fund. In particular, he said very little about what he plans to do about the principal development event of the year. He wants an action plan to emerge from the summit, but what does he want to see in it, and how will he get it? What conversations has he had with the Deputy Prime Minister, who is due to represent us there, and what are the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister going to do to help secure the outcomes that the Secretary of State desires?
The Department is a great place in which to serve, and I join the right hon. Gentleman in praising the officials who serve there. The Ministers who serve there have a heavy responsibility to champion, challenge and mobilise for the world's poorest, but the striking thing about what the Government have said and done so far is, first, the lack of any clear strategy on what they will do next in order to help those poorest people, and, secondly, the failure in international meetings to do the heavy lifting that is required in order to keep development at the centre of global political attention. I hope that things will change, but I fear that they will not.
The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr Alan Duncan): I start by being nice about the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), even though he does not seem to have been inclined to be nice about me this afternoon. I do, after all, sit at his former desk. I have lifted the chair a little so that I can see things, but it would be churlish not to acknowledge that, as my predecessor, he remained in post for almost seven years-a record in the Department, I think-and did a lot of good when he was there. Indeed, having heard the debate this afternoon, such is my affection for him that, should he so wish, I am very happy to endorse his application to become Governor of the Pitcairn Islands.
It has been a genuine pleasure to listen to this debate. It is evident from the quality of the contributions and the passion with which they have been delivered that global poverty is a topic about which Members on both sides of the House care very deeply. I should like to thank them for their observations, and I will turn to their contributions in a moment.
In opening the debate, the Secretary of State made it clear that we cannot allow current economic pressures to deflect us from our goal of helping the world's poorest people. We will not turn away and abandon those whose need is so great. True leadership is forged in the heat of adversity, and this Government will not be found wanting. However, neither will we be prepared to squander the hard-earned money of British taxpayers.
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