“We completely agree that the treatment of Mrs Tymoshenko, whom I have met on previous occasions, is absolutely disgraceful. The Ukrainians need to know that if they leave the situation as it is, it will severely affect their relationship not only with the UK but with the European Union”.—[Official Report, 12 October 2011; Vol. 533, c. 329.]

In fact, the Ukrainians have made the situation worse by denying her medical treatment, although we are glad that she seems to be out of prison at the moment.

Other European leaders have taken a stand on the matter. The Prime Minister’s friends in the Czech Republic, the Czech President, Mrs Merkel, Radek Sikorski, the Polish Foreign Secretary and Carl Bildt, the Prime Minister’s friend in the Swedish Government, have spoken

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out publicly on it; we had barely a squeak from the Foreign Secretary this afternoon. Britain must stand up for Mrs Tymoshenko—as the Prime Minister pledged to do in this House in October.

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Andrew Mitchell): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr MacShane: I do not think that I have time. Will the right hon. Gentleman forgive me? [ Interruption. ] I am sorry—[ Interruption. ] Well, very quickly then.

Mr Mitchell: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point about Ukraine, but he is most unfair to the Government. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised the matter specifically in his opening remarks.

Mr MacShane: The Foreign Secretary mentioned it en passant. There has been no public statement, and none of the positions, taken by European leaders committed to human rights, about boycotts and having no contact. That is what I—we—want from this Government.

The Foreign Secretary also says that he has to support British nationals overseas. Certainly, the extradition of British nationals to the United States is working in favour of America’s idea of justice. We also have the problem of Mr Neil Heywood, killed in a horrible way at the same time as a Minister of State was visiting China, but it took several months for the truth to emerge.

Members across the House also agreed a resolution that Britain should take action on the case of Sergei Magnitsky by banning named individuals from coming into the UK, but the Foreign Office refuses to implement the will of the House. The names might be mentioned in private bilateral meetings with Russia, but we are not standing up for human rights, as I believe this country wants to do and expects the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister to do.

That is why this foreign policy is not working and will not work until we have a change of Government.

6.58 pm

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): It is always a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane), whose knowledge of these matters is renowned. I take issue with his remarks about unsplendid isolation, however, because I struggle to reconcile that with his right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary’s assertion that the Government’s foreign policy has a hint of imperial delusion. One can either be an isolationist or an imperialist; it is very difficult to be both at the same time.

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary took some time to describe the problems relating to north Africa and the middle east and, in particular, to identify the challenges in the Sahel region. There is a real risk that, with our interest in things going on elsewhere in the world, we could take our eye off the ball in this troubled region, which could easily become a crucible for insurgency, people trafficking, narcotics and terrorism. The countries of north Africa are well apprised of the dangers of the situation and are most

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keen that the European Union take early action to ensure that the situation in the Sahel does not deteriorate any further.

The Maghreb is a bulwark against the instability that may well issue forth from the ungoverned spaces of that part of Africa. We have watched with some dismay the deteriorating situation in Mali and in Niger, especially the trouble in the north of Mali as Tuareg insurgents return from military duties in Libya to occupy large swathes of that country, and particularly the area around Timbuktu. That could well act as a catalyst for disruption and dismay in the wider region that might easily have knock-on effects, especially for Algeria and Morocco. Many of us hope sincerely that there will be a rapprochement between Algeria and Morocco and that, in particular, the situation in the Tindouf camps will be resolved without too much further delay. Indeed, the stability of the whole region appears to hinge on the nexus between Rabat and Algiers.

Jeremy Corbyn: With the renewal of the MINURSO mandate, which has greatly assisted the Western Saharan people, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be a good idea if it included a human rights monitoring role to assist the human rights of everyone in the Western Sahara and in the refugee camps?

Dr Murrison: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for intervening; I expected him to do so. I have spoken on this subject before in the House, and it would be reasonable to do as he suggests. However, Morocco’s concern would be that there was an implicit assumption that its human rights record is not particularly good. In a region that is troubled with its record in that respect, Morocco is something of a beacon, and I would encourage it in the direction of travel that its new Government, and their predecessors, have taken in improving human rights. I would be very reluctant to see that country held out as failing in some way on its human rights record, although I agree that there is every imperative to ensure that it improves in that respect.

I hold out Morocco as having done a great deal in recent years, particularly last year, to take itself further forward on the path towards constitutional democracy. In the middle of the year, there was the referendum on the new constitution, with elections in November. At a time when we have seen chaos sweep through north Africa and the middle east, Morocco has stood as a beacon of stability and relative calm. That is because it has a multi-party tradition. While its democracy is evolving—some of us have had the opportunity to witness that at first hand—it has had a tradition of nascent democracy for some time, and that is what has kept it free of some of the insurgency and mayhem that has enveloped the wider region. The Moroccan autonomy plan for the Western Sahara is undoubtedly imperfect—most plans are—but it does offer a credible and pragmatic way forward. It is supported by France and the US and, in truth, it is the only show in town. Next year marks the 800th anniversary of the first diplomatic contact between England and Morocco. One of our oldest friends deserves our unequivocal support as it tries to stabilise the region and control the ingress of enemies that we hold in common and must do all we can to defeat.

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We have heard a great deal today about international development. Charity begins at home, but it most certainly does not end there. I am very proud that the Government have maintained their commitment to international aid. I am perfectly happy to face down populist demands to have it cut, and more than happy to explain to dissenters how it has helped to eradicate smallpox, reduce polio, tackle malaria, and even assist tax collectors, necessary as they are in state-building. If I had a criticism of this Government, and indeed of their predecessors, it would be that they have been insufficiently willing to present aid as being in the UK’s national self-interest. If it is explained in that way, we are more likely to get buy-in from the voting public. At the end of the day, our views are interesting, of course, but we need to represent the views of the public, and it is certainly the case that they are not entirely signed up to granting aid at a time when they are being expected to tighten their belts.

Bob Stewart: The public would be greatly more interested in international aid if they realised that we have stopped, as much as we possibly can, money being siphoned off and sent to offshore accounts rather than going to the people to whom it was directed. If we could explain to the public that we have stopped malaria and are doing things to help the little people, that would make international aid much more acceptable.

Dr Murrison: I agree with my hon. Friend. The Government’s attempt to cut aid to relatively wealthy countries with nuclear weapons, such as Russia and China, together with the UK aid transparency guarantee, should help to reassure a doubting public. However, it is the duty of all those of us who believe in international development to take the message out to our constituents and persuade them that it is in the recipients’ interest and in our own national self-interest that we should maintain our aid programme in very difficult times.

I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify what part of the 0.7% of GNI in aid that we intend to spend will be channelled through the European Union. I commend him for his desire to have transparency in aid, which is absolutely right, for reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) touched on. It would be perverse if, having gone to the trouble of making aid transparent in the UK, the large portion of our aid that goes through the EU and the European Commission was obscure. A lot of EU aid is used to prosecute foreign policy in relation to its near abroad, seemingly as an extension of the External Action Service. As chairman of the all-party group on Morocco, which is the largest recipient under the European neighbourhood policy, I can say that in general terms the money seems to be reasonably well spent.

Mr MacShane: I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern for Maghreb Morocco. We provided £1 million for Tunisia when the Foreign Secretary went there last year. I am obviously not against that, but £1 million is almost irrelevant. We need to help our near abroad so that it becomes more like us.

Dr Murrison: I entirely agree, but it seems to me that some European aid is an extension of the External Action Service rather than necessarily aid in the sense

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that we give it to Bangladesh, for example. The right hon. Gentleman might see that as a nice distinction, but it is important nevertheless.

I am pleased to see in the Queen’s Speech the Croatia accession Bill, which represents the UK’s ratification of the accession treaty signed in December. Those of us of a Eurosceptic disposition see the EU as a trading compact, and that means a looser, not an ever-closer, union that is wider still and wider. Croatia has made considerable inroads in progressing the chapters of the acquis communautaire assessed in 2005 as being in need of further work, notably in relation to chapters 23 and 24, which deal with the judiciary, fundamental rights, justice, freedom and security. The process has been painful for Croatia, particularly in relation to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, but it has ultimately been successful. We wish it well in 2013.

More problematic is Serbia, which I fear must remain a candidate for some time. Belgrade’s attitude to, inter alia, human rights and its criminal justice system are in no way congruous with EU member states. The detention without trial of my constituent, Nick Djivanovic, by the Serb authorities under highly questionable laws and procedures from the days of Marshal Tito, which have no equivalent in the EU, illustrates the point perfectly in relation to chapters 23 and 24 of the acquis communautaire. Following the eventual arrest and surrender of Ratko Mladic, I hope that the Government will work with Serbia so that its aspiration is eventually satisfied, but it will need a great deal more work.

Immigration remains a matter of great concern to many of our constituents. Will the Minister describe the transitional immigration controls that will apply to Croatia and to future accession states, noting the migratory pressures that are sadly likely as the citizens of economically benighted southern European states seek refuge further north?

The ubiquity of the English language has been touched on. It is a blessing and a curse. The orthodoxy is that we should teach more modern foreign languages. I hope, however, that we will pick up on the blessing that the language brings in extending our linguistic reach. In particular, we must support the work of the British Council, which I have seen at first hand in Morocco—a country that is at the heart of what France has traditionally seen as its backyard.

We need to exploit more our further and higher education sectors, so that tomorrow’s movers and shakers come to this country and not to others. They may then be sympathetic to us in the years ahead. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s views on the European Commission’s Tempus programme and the Erasmus Mundus external co-operation window, which the UK has not exploited in Europe to the fullest extent.

7.11 pm

Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison). I associate myself with his comments about Morocco. I did not realise that he was the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Morocco. I feel very inclined to join it after his remarks. I have been to Morocco on several occasions and have friends in that country. Indeed, a late great uncle of mine was once the mayor of Tangier. That helped my

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Jewish family in the second world war, who took refuge in Morocco. I think that Morocco is the only Arab country that recognises an Israeli passport and allows joint citizenship with Israel.

Dr Murrison: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generous remarks. It is not said loudly enough that the story of Morocco is one of tolerance. In particular, the record of the former sultan in supporting the Jewish community, particularly around Casablanca, against the Vichy French is a powerful example. Morocco ought to be very proud of that.

Fabian Hamilton: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I hope that I can join his group and work with him for the benefit of Anglo-Moroccan relations, which are important to this country and to the Arab world.

I will concentrate on one major issue that concerns me, which I hope the Government will take up. Indeed, the Government have made their views on it fairly clear, but they need to do more. It is the issue of Tibet.

Yesterday, I was privileged to be invited to St Paul’s cathedral to hear the address by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, Tenzin Gyatso. He was awarded the prestigious Templeton prize, which is awarded for a person’s spiritual contribution to humanity. It is now 100 years since the birth of the prize’s founder, Sir John Templeton.

St Paul’s, as Members will know, is a wonderful venue for any ceremonial. To be there in the presence of so many people, but especially the Dalai Lama, and to hear his magnificent speech about compassion, peace and love for all humanity was very uplifting. It made me realise that the attempts by the Chinese Government to bring the Dalai Lama into disrepute, calling him a “splittist” and even, on some occasions, a terrorist, are complete and utter nonsense. We know that this is a man who stands up for peace and love for all humanity. How can the Chinese Government, who have such a poor record of human rights violations, accuse somebody such as the Dalai Lama of what they accuse him of? I hope that our Government will put further pressure on the Chinese Government to ensure that the human rights violations all over that country, but especially in Tibet, are brought to an end, or at least brought to public notice.

I want to draw attention to the case of one individual. His name is Dhondup Wangchen. He was a renowned filmmaker in Tibet until 2008, when he was arrested for making a film about the effect of the Olympics in Beijing on the people of Tibet. It was a modest film, as anybody who has seen it will know, in which the Tibetan people who were interviewed said, “It would be nice if we had a chance to share in the interest and pleasure of watching live sport, especially something as prestigious as the Olympics, but the Government won’t let us because we are Tibetan.” For that film, Dhondup Wangchen was arrested, supposedly tried and imprisoned for eight years. He is still in prison. He is currently suffering from a hepatitis C infection that is damaging his health, and he is being denied the appropriate health care.

I hope that the Foreign Office and the Foreign Secretary will bring the case of Dhondup Wangchen to the attention of the Chinese Government, as well as the cases of the many other Tibetans who have been arrested simply for

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supporting the Dalai Lama. It is now a criminal offence in Tibet to put up a portrait of His Holiness. One does not have to do anything but put up a portrait that is then seen. That is why many Tibetans now hide his portrait in a cupboard or somewhere else where it cannot be seen by spies and people who are there on behalf of the Chinese Administration.

We know what the Dalai Lama has written. All that he has ever asked for is true autonomy for Tibet. No longer is the argument put forward that Tibet wants to be a proud, autonomous, independent nation once again. I think that many Tibetans wish that that was the case, but they so revere the Dalai Lama that they would not deny or contradict his “middle way” approach. That is something that the British Government should support.

In 2006, just six years ago this month, I was privileged to be part of the Foreign Affairs Committee delegation that went to Lhasa. It was a fascinating experience. The visit was brought about by the determination of my colleague on the Committee at the time, the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley). He persisted in arguing that we should be allowed to go, in the face of Foreign Office resistance and, of course, resistance from the Chinese Government. But go we did. There were five of us, the others being my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and two former Members, Andrew Mackinlay and Richard Younger-Ross.

We were accompanied by 10 people from Beijing, if I recall correctly, to ensure that we did not stray off the path that the Chinese Administration had set down for us. None the less, Andrew Mackinlay and I managed to escape our minders one afternoon, after three days in Lhasa, to explore the Barkhor markets and talk to people, although they were scared to talk to foreigners. That gave us a true insight into the way in which the Chinese Government are trying to make the people of Tibet Chinese; the way in which Han Chinese people are being encouraged to move into the new housing that is being built in Lhasa; the way in which the Tibetan language is demoted, even for Tibetan children in the schools in that country; and the way in which nomads are being forced to live in fixed accommodation, no longer able to pursue the lifestyle and culture that they have had for centuries. The culture of Tibet—its costume, its cultural festivities, its celebrations and the very faith of Buddhism—is being eroded in the name of standardisation and Chinese-ification.

Our Government need to stand up and speak louder for the future and self-determination of the Tibetan people before it is too late. My fear, and that of right hon. and hon. Members who support the Tibetan cause, many of whom were at St Paul’s cathedral yesterday, is that in 20 or 50 years’ time, there will be a Tibetan diaspora but no Tibetan people still living in Tibet. That would be a tragedy.

Yesterday, His Holiness the Dalai Lama acknowledged his debt to the people and Government of India, who welcomed him when he was forced into exile in 1959, where he has been ever since in Dharamsala. Each year, with the support of the Tibet Society, the all-party Tibet group, which I chair, tries to organise a trip to Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj for parliamentarians to meet the brilliantly organised Tibetan Government-in-exile

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and see their Parliament, their artistic and cultural organisations and their political prisoners’ organisation, from which we hear the most harrowing tales. Best of all, we see the Tibetan children’s village, where children who have walked across the Himalayas to escape the oppression of the Chinese Government and Communist party, often unaccompanied by their parents, come into India and are welcomed with open arms. They are supported by many western and eastern people, many of whom come from Japan. It is so uplifting to see how those children are looked after.

I do not want to go into the debate that we will continue to have about the rights and wrongs of what is happening between Israel and the Palestinian people, but the director of the Tibetan children’s village went to Israel to see how the kibbutzim were managed and organised. When I was last there, I could not help but think that the village was run along the lines of a kibbutz. It seemed very much like it. I said to the director, “This seems strange. Have you been to Israel?” He said, “Yes we have. We went there to see what a kibbutz was like, and we put their principles into practice here so that our children could benefit from collective living and a co-operative upbringing together.” Their parents are often stuck in Lhasa or other towns and villages in Tibet.

Tibet will die if we do not continue to support it. We should not be afraid of the Chinese bullies. I was very pleased that the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister were there yesterday to meet His Holiness at St Paul’s cathedral, and I congratulate them. However, I am also aware, as many Members will be if they read this morning’s papers, that the Chinese Government expressed in the strongest possible terms their anger at the fact that our Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister had had the temerity to meet the Dalai Lama. We must stand up against this bullying.

When the Foreign Affairs Committee was in Beijing, the Chinese people’s foreign affairs committee threatened us with all sorts of retribution if we visited Taiwan. We were told it would have far-reaching damaging effects on the relationship between the UK and China. We went to Taiwan, and no damaging effect was felt at all. We must stand up to these bully-boy tactics, stand up for Tibet and stand up for the message of peace, love and compassion that His Holiness the Dalai Lama continues to put forth without fear or favour.

7.23 pm

Mrs Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): Women have always played a part in war and peace, sometimes as arbitrators, sometimes as appeasers and at other times as agitants. As far back as the 7th century BC, Homer writes about my namesake, Helen of Troy, causing the launch of a thousand ships. Be it in fact or fiction, we know that throughout history women have not only driven men to defend the homes, their honour and their livelihoods but have also been drivers of peace. They are often the first to call for an end to fighting.

It surely follows that the inclusion of women at the official peace table is both logical and rational and reflects the needs of society as a whole. I am pleased to say that our Foreign Secretary has promoted that stance. He said at the launch of the “No Women No Peace” campaign in 2010:

“No lasting peace can be achieved after conflict unless the needs of women are met.”

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Yet in the 16 peace processes undertaken since 2000, female involvement has been minimal. In five cases, no women at all were involved. Excuses include lack of knowledge, lack of experience and lack of negotiating skills, but those same criteria are rarely applied to military and political men, who continue to make the domain their own.

Notwithstanding those attitudes, there are many examples of women around the world who have been central to positive change—Mo Mowlam, Rosa Parks, Mary Robinson and Aung San Suu Kyi to name but a few. Their courage has created international awareness of women as peacemakers, a role that was recognised and adopted 10 years ago in UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. Although the resolution is yet to be rewarded with widespread change, I welcome the Government’s recognition of its importance in their national action plan, which was first published in 2010 and revised earlier this year.

Meg Munn: I agree with the hon. Lady that this is an enormously important matter and that having the national action plan is a good start, but should not the Government put resources behind that plan to make something happen? We need more than speeches.

Mrs Grant: The hon. Lady makes a very good point, but the Government are putting resources behind their words, and if she waits a little longer she will hear me give some examples of those resources and the Government’s action.

Correcting gender imbalance in conflict resolution is a very effective use of overseas aid and a rightful aspect of our foreign policy, but in some countries a seismic movement in male culture is needed before the empowerment of women can take place and the benefits be fully realised. South Sudan, the world’s newest country, is one such place, as I witnessed for myself on a parliamentary visit during the Easter recess.

Blessed with immense mineral wealth and fed by the waters of the White Nile, South Sudan has the potential to become one of the great breadbaskets of Africa. I saw a truly mammoth UN operation, supported by a raft of foreign aid. It should be a place with a future, but it soon became clear that some of the leaders were more intent on conflict over oil revenues. Tension was everywhere and the smell of catastrophe was in the air, yet throughout many discussions with influential politicians, not once did I have political dialogue with a South Sudanese woman. All such meetings were exclusively populated by men.

If we drill into the culture, the reasons behind that become plain. Under the “bride price” dowry system, women are regarded as the property of their husbands and fathers, turning them into economic objects. They are married off at a very young age and have to leave school, which is why 84% of women are illiterate. They are expected to bear many children, and one in seven women die in pregnancy or childbirth, the highest maternal mortality rate in the world.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Does the hon. Lady agree that the issue of literacy among females, which she has just touched on, is crucial, particularly in the mid and southern Sahara region of

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Africa? The more we can get females educated in the nations there, the more likely it is that we will see the development and emancipation to which she refers.

Mrs Grant: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, and I agree with everything that he has said.

Added to all that, in certain areas of South Sudan domestic violence is not just tolerated but expected, driving self-esteem, confidence and aspiration further into the dust. Amid the paucity of respect and consideration, however, there is some official acceptance of the need for change. A quota policy was adopted to ensure that women made up 25% of those on the country’s decision-making bodies. Although I personally dislike quotas, it was noticeable that during the election, 70% of voters were women. They came out to support other women as candidates and achieved an incredible 34% of women in Parliament and 30% in the Executive branch.

On paper, those numbers are encouraging, but I am sceptical about whether many of those elected women yet command real power and influence. One who certainly does is a remarkable lady called Anne Itto, deputy secretary-general of the governing party and Minister for Agriculture. She has bravely taken centre stage, speaking out for peace, economic progress and the inclusion of women in peacemaking. She said:

“The role women play as combatants, supporters of fighting forces, and peacemakers qualifies them to sit at the negotiating table and to assume an active role in implementation.”

Individuals like Anne Itto are capable of galvanising a female political movement—a movement derived from the many women who have taken on the roles and responsibilities of absent men throughout the conflicts of the past.

Those women have outgrown the pre-war social and political order, which was the cause of the fighting. They just need a spark of empowerment to overcome their suppression, seize an education and participate in building their nation. Those are the drivers of DFID’s gender strategy for South Sudan. It targets reproductive health, women’s economic empowerment, girls’ education and the prevention of domestic violence. The Department’s vision recognises the importance of the state’s approach to gender in the wider success of the peacebuilding and state-building effort. It is also a fine example of how our foreign aid is utilised both strategically and surgically.

In addition to all that, bold and visionary male leadership will be needed in South Sudan to enable the change. As I have said before in this place, when courageous women meet enlightened men, there is little that cannot be achieved.

In conclusion, I would like to take the opportunity to praise the coalition Government, as the first Government in history to set out clear plans to honour a life-saving and life-changing aid pledge, which they will do by 2013. A commitment to legislate was set out in the coalition programme for government. I understand that the Bill is ready, and that there will be legislation when parliamentary time allows. In the meantime, we should acknowledge the work that has been done and continues to be done. For example, over the lifetime of this Parliament, the UK will help get 11 million children into school, save the lives of 50,000 mothers in childbirth, and vaccinate a child every two seconds. In the words of Benjamin Franklin:

“Well done is better than well said.”

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7.32 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): When we debate foreign affairs, it is difficult to restrict oneself to a limited number of subjects because there are so many things that one wants to talk about. I will cover two matters: general peace issues and the rights of migrant peoples across the world.

We heard a long discussion by the Foreign Secretary, who will go to the NATO summit next week in Chicago, on the future of Afghanistan. We should pause for a moment and hold the narrative. This country has spent £17 billion on the war in Afghanistan, which remains extremely poor, extremely corrupt and, to some extent, dominated by drug users, and the streets of our country have not been made any safer. Like many other countries, we have passed a series of anti-terror laws that are draconian to say the least. We have to learn a lesson about what intervention means and what the war on terror, inspired by George Bush in 2002, means for Afghanistan, Iraq and the whole policy narrative that we are following.

I opposed the war in Afghanistan and strongly opposed the war in Iraq because I could see no good end to them. It was not that I and others who opposed the wars supported the Taliban or Saddam Hussein’s regime. We simply did not believe that western intervention would bring about peace and justice or human rights; it seldom does. Indeed, although the intervention in Libya killed and removed Gaddafi, it has left behind it a series of warring factions, abominable human rights abuses, and lynchings of African people who happened to be living in Libya at the time of the NATO bombardment.

In the discussion about Iran, I recognise a similar process to the one that we went through in the build-up to the war in Iraq. I hope that the conference that took place in Istanbul and the Baghdad meeting that is due to happen in the near future will bring about some resolution and some contact between the west and Iran. We should read the International Atomic Energy Agency inspection reports carefully because they do not confirm that Iran has nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons grade uranium or plutonium. They confirm that, with the exception of the inspections required under the voluntary supplementary protocol to the non-proliferation treaty, the IAEA has been able to inspect nuclear weapons sites. We should be careful about our approach to the issue.

As I said in an intervention on the Foreign Secretary, the Iranian Government remain committed to, and a signatory of, the NPT. Indeed, the last NPT review conference envisaged the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free middle east—I think that we would all support that. However, that cannot be done within the terms of the NPT; it needs a wider convention. That requires the participation of Israel, which has nuclear weapons, 200 warheads and a delivery system. It is quite capable of using that and threatening somebody else. I hope that the Helsinki meeting is successful and that we move some way towards a nuclear weapons-free middle east as a result of it. However, an attack on Iran by Israel, or the continuing assassination of individual scientists in Iran by special forces, are great dangers, just as the deployment of large naval vessels in the strait of Hormuz may spark some sort of conflict.

I am not here to defend the Iranian Government. I deplore their human rights record and the treatment of ethnic and linguistic minorities, trade unions and religious groups. However, a western attack and a war on Iran will

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not liberate those people. It will kill many people, as has happened in Afghanistan and Iraq. I hope that we will not be so stupid as to start yet another war in the middle east, with all the ramifications that that would have.

Instead, I hope that we will put our efforts into peace and justice in the region, particularly for the Palestinian people. We should recognise that the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike, which has just ended, is a cri de coeur from those, including children and elected members of parliament, who have been in administrative detention—held without trial—by the Israeli Government. Although it is easy for the friends of Israel to proclaim it to be the only democracy in the whole region, a democracy cannot call itself by that name if it denies the same rights to others through occupation, settlement, the construction of walls or the imprisonment of its elected representatives. I therefore hope that the Government will continue to criticise the settlement policy, and that, above all, the rest of the world recognises what is happening.

We need to consider our approach to world affairs because we are keen to say that Iran should not have nuclear weapons—I do not think that Iran should have nuclear weapons any more than any other country should—but we have them, and we propose to spend £100 billion on replacing Trident. We also spend 2.6% of our GDP—the highest level in Europe—on defence. Perhaps we should think about reordering some of our priorities and looking at things in a slightly different way.

In the three and a half minutes left, I want to consider an issue that has not been raised in the debate and is seldom ever raised: the shocking abuse of the human rights of people who try to escape poverty in the poorest parts of the world. There is a flow of migrants from the poorest countries in central and sub-Saharan Africa across the desert to the Canary islands, Libya, Italy, Greece and other countries, and what happens to them is appalling. The numbers who die en route in the Mediterranean and trying to get across the little bit of ocean towards the Canary Islands are truly shocking, as too are the numbers killed in Libya or deported and left in dangerous and harsh conditions.

It is easy to blame the people traffickers—I have no truck with people traffickers; what they do is absolutely disgusting—and, as a wealthy country in the western world, it is easy for us to condemn migration and see it as a threat, but we are part of the problem. We have allowed the trade policies to develop that have impoverished so much of central and sub-Saharan Africa, and we use xenophobic arguments against people who are merely pleading to survive, to get to a place where they can work and to send resources and money home to their families.

Across the Atlantic, exactly the same thing is happening in parallel. The very poorest people from central America—from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala—are fleeing through Mexico to the USA. They get across the border into Mexico, they ride freight trains, they are pulled off the freight trains, they are killed or kidnapped, and their families back home are forced to pay a ransom to the gang that did the kidnapping. I shall quote from a report I was given last week from the Campaign for the Right to Migrate Free from Violence, when Bishop Vera of Saltillo in Mexico was visiting this country. I had a long discussion with him. I quote from Daniel, a 20-year-old, who said:

“Eight men came and took us off the train, beat us… right nearby were six agents of the Federal Police, in their patrol cars,

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who didn’t do anything… we screamed and asked them to help us, but they didn’t do anything… Inside the house”,

in which they were held

“there was blood everywhere and lots of flies; there were about thirty kidnapped people there, six were women and they suffered so much, because from the time we arrived all of the kidnappers raped them, they raped them whenever they wanted, always right in front of us”.

It goes on to describe how people were killed in front of this young man.

These people are also fleeing poverty, and trying to escape violence and to seek justice in the world. We need to give a thought to the plight of migrant people all over the world. When they get to Europe or the USA, they clean our floors and offices, they pick the fruit, they work in the farms and factories, and they sustain the economic wealth of western Europe and north America. They are contributing to our wealth. It is up to us to recognise that they, too, deserve justice and human rights.

7.42 pm

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): It is a form of pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn)—I say “a form” because I well remember in 1992 I and others tried to unseat him, but, having listened to his eloquence and passion, it is probably right that we failed.

I thought that this debate would focus on Europe and the EU, but I suppose that, like many other hon. Members, I should be relieved that it has not. Instead, it has been a very wide-ranging debate. But, of course, Europe and the EU are important to us. It is our nearest neighbour and biggest marketplace. We all know that 50% of our trade links directly into the EU, the City of London is the financial centre for the trading of financial instruments and we benefit significantly from the single market, largely because we were its principal architects. These facts are undeniable.

We also cannot be blind to the fact, however, that the storm clouds now gathering over Europe, particularly in the eurozone, significantly hamper our attempts to get ourselves out of the mess into which we have got over the past several years and to dig ourselves out of the debt into which we have dug ourselves. We cannot deny these facts. My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) said that some countries, such as Greece, are in crisis. More disturbingly, more countries, such as Spain, Portugal and Italy, are in sclerosis. There is an economic and financial degeneration in Europe that could take years to arrest, which is why we need to raise our sights above and beyond Europe, as we always have done, to the new and emerging marketplaces in the far east, south America and the old Soviet bloc.

The Queen’s Speech made the point that we

“will build strategic partnerships with the emerging powers.”

I am pleased to read that, and I rather hope that two of the areas in which we will seek to build partnerships will be a big country and a small country. The big country is China, which, curiously, was not mentioned overmuch by either Front-Bench spokesperson, although the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) made a passionate and eloquent speech.

My eyes were opened to China when I visited with a Select Committee early this year. The growth in GDP each year in China has been stupendous. We all know

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the figures—14% growth in Chongqing, 12% growth in Beijing—but that hides the reality of a city such as Shenzhen, which, 30 years ago, was a village in a paddy field, but which is now a vibrant trading city of granite and glass, with 10.5 million Chinese souls living in it. The bicycles have gone and the fuel-injected engines and 4x4s have come instead. The young Chinese, who have dreams of tomorrow, have high-carbon dreams: they want the nice home, the nice car, the nice holiday—and they are going to get them.

Looking around those cities, one will see the countries providing them with those dreams. The cars are Volkswagens, Audis and BMWs. It is Germany, I fear, which is providing the icons of quality in China that those young Chinese want to see and buy. I hope, then, that the Foreign Office will redouble its efforts to expand our commercial consular service in China, particularly in the western provinces, which are growing even quicker than the east, to ensure that British businesses, including construction businesses, can put their stamp on China, earn money for our economy and make the point that we, too, can be icons of quality in that massive marketplace.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting and thoughtful contribution. Does he agree that we must look at the tariff arrangements that act to the detriment of, for example, our export of quality automotive vehicles, such as Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, to areas such as China?

Christopher Pincher: The fact is that there is a massive expansion of those goods in China, which is the key market for cars such as Bentleys. I would like to see more cars sold from Britain to China, but we do not make them and have not done so for a rather long time.

I would also like to mention a smaller country. Azerbaijan is a young country, but it has a thriving economy that has grown by about 21% over the past four years. It operates a 27% surplus and is an economy in which we already invest heavily. The energy infrastructure in Azerbaijan is largely provided by companies such as BP. The Manganese Bronze cab company has exported 500 black cabs to Baku and will export, we hope, about 3,000 more. So there is lots of opportunity in Azerbaijan, and I rather hope we will take it.

We need to recognise the civil liberties issues in Azerbaijan, which international agencies have seen and talked about, but they should not prevent us from recognising the advances it has made in 20 years. It had no experience of a market economy or of elected democracy, so we should recognise the advances it is making and support it. We should support Azerbaijan because it is a secular Islamic society with a tolerant approach to religion.

We should also support Azerbaijan because it is going to be—in fact, it already is—a significant energy player in its region. The oil and gas coming out of the country can have—indeed, is having—an even bigger impact on the region. The proposed pipeline from Azerbaijan through Anatolia is one example of how the gas and the oil from that country can increase the size of the marketplace in Europe. The refining capacity that the Azerbaijanis are building in Kyrgyzstan is also an example of how they are expanding their oil and gas facilities. I hope that we will continue to support that

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country in expanding its facilities, because that is a key way in which we will expand our interests there and encourage the elites in Azerbaijan to liberalise further.

I hold up my hand and make a declaration: I am a member of the all-party group on Azerbaijan and I have been to Baku on a number of occasions. I am impressed by the strides forward that the country is making, and I am certainly impressed by what my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe has done to try to improve links with it. However, I also hope that, building on those links, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will, at some point soon, make a point of visiting Azerbaijan to build our links further and further encourage the younger generation of leaders there towards greater democracy and liberalisation.

In the short time left to me, I want to mention another former Soviet satellite, but a very different one: Latvia. Latvia has historically had strong trade links with our country. It has had some difficulties in the last few years because, with the crash, it hit economic rock bottom. However, Latvia is now building itself up again, and I was pleased that the Prime Minister hosted the first Baltic conference in London two years ago. The Latvians were pleased with that, too. They are hosting a third conference in Riga later this summer. I hope that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister—ably assisted, of course, by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe—will go to Riga to make clear our support for Latvia.

I remember reading a book at school by Lord Briggs—Asa Briggs—who, talking about British tradesmen in the 18th century, made the point that we always looked beyond Europe, setting our sights on the world beyond. He said that British tradesmen were “buccaneers” on the high seas of trade. That is what I think we should be. I rather hope that the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development will put aside the “cult of the gentleman” and do their utmost to assist British business and British commercial interests in China, Azerbaijan and Latvia, and everywhere else where our traders are working in our interest. It is good for our prosperity, good for our security and good for our trading partners.

7.53 pm

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I would like to spend a few minutes addressing the Government’s failure to include legislation in the Queen’s Speech to make it mandatory for 0.7% of gross national income to be spent on overseas development, despite the fact that both coalition parties pledged themselves to such a commitment in their agreement. The Government can, of course, point to the fact that, notwithstanding the omission of such legislation, the Queen’s Speech confirmed their commitment to reaching the 0.7% target from next year. I congratulate the Government on sticking to that commitment—a commitment first entered into, of course, by the Labour party. I congratulate the Government because at a time of economic stringency, it would have been all too easy to succumb to the cries of those who call for overseas aid to be cut in favour of spending at home.

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The continuation of the commitment to overseas development is a recognition of the fact that it is in our national interest to assist the poorest in our world community, because poor countries are less likely to buy our exports and poor countries that become failed states threaten our national security in all sorts of ways, of which hon. Members will be well aware. Supporting the poor in the poorest countries is also a recognition of a moral imperative, whether motivated by faith or by other ethical perspectives. Indeed, it does not particularly matter: it is a moral imperative, and I am glad that colleagues across the House have made that point in their speeches today.

That is why I find it surprising that the Queen’s Speech did not include legislation to make spending 0.7% of GNI on overseas development assistance mandatory. I do not accept the argument that the time cannot be found. The legislation would be short and would have all-party agreement. Given the experience of the previous Session, when legislation was sometimes in all too short supply, I do not think it would be difficult to find time. All I can assume is that the Government, although prepared to do good by stealth and quietly stick to the 0.7% spending target, were nevertheless not prepared to proclaim their commitment from the rooftops, for fear of attracting too much attention and political flak from their more right-wing members and supporters. I understand why that might have seemed an attractive course of action, but I believe it to be a great mistake, and one that will be counter-productive to the Government’s stated commitment.

Those who do not support the 0.7% commitment in law will have scented weakness in the omission of the promised legislation, and will draw the conclusion that they should press more, in the hope that they can undermine the spending commitment as well. However, if the Government had gone ahead with legislation, there would have been a battle, but once it was through, the very fact that disengaging from such a commitment would be more difficult—requiring, as it would, a new Act of Parliament to repeal it, and one that would certainly face strong opposition—would make the commitment much more likely to remain, no longer being subject to real attack.

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): My hon. Friend raises the important point of the 0.7% target. Would not setting such a target also be an opportunity for the Government to leave a lasting legacy, so to speak, for future Governments, demonstrating the immense commitment of the UK people to international development?

Mark Lazarowicz: Indeed it would, which leads to me to the point that other countries look at what we in the UK do on development assistance. The UK under this Government—as, indeed, under the last—is seen as a world leader. In the current world economic situation, many richer countries are beginning to cut their overseas development assistance. The world community is beginning to draw back from the pledges it has made to the poor in poorer countries. Promises are being broken. An unequivocal commitment from the UK that we are standing by our promises—not just for one spending programme, but for the long term—would encourage those elsewhere in the world who want the promises

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made to the poor to be kept and who want to ensure that the weakest in the world community do not become the greatest victims of the world economic crisis.

I therefore hope that the Government will recognise that it would be to the advantage of their stated cause to introduce a Bill to make the 0.7% commitment mandatory. If they do not do so, I suspect that one of the hon. Members who signed the private Members’ Bill book today who comes up in the ballot will almost certainly choose to introduce such a Bill anyway, thereby putting the Government in the invidious position of either supporting it or asking Members to vote down legislation that they support. I therefore hope that the Government will think again on the 0.7% commitment.

However, legislation is one thing. Targets are important; what is also important is how spending on international development meets long-term development objectives and short-term crises. In that context, I want to say a few words about something that has not been covered in the debate so far: the spreading food and hunger crises in many parts of Africa. Western Africa is now facing a new hunger crisis, which has the potential to be as serious as the one in the horn of Africa. Hundreds of thousands are still facing hunger and, at best, life in refugee camps in Somalia, and we are seeing similar crises developing, for all sorts of reasons, in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When we look at what is happening in west Africa, we see an awful similarity to what happened in the horn of Africa. There were warnings about what was happening in the horn of Africa months and even years ahead; yet the world did not respond until it was too late. Since the crisis in Somalia, we have had the welcome Ashdown report, which was commissioned by this Government, on humanitarian and emergency relief. The food crisis in west Africa is a test of the new policy. I would like Ministers to tell us, if they can, what the UK is doing to put the new policy to the test in west Africa and to face up to the worrying possibility of a new famine, and to say what the Government are doing to that end internationally.

Conflict is obviously contributing to the crisis in west Africa, as it did in Somalia when the knock-on effects of events in north Africa moved further south. The growing humanitarian crises in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are also linked to conflicts in those areas. Conflict is often the underlying cause of hunger and famine in many parts of the world. Tackling the underlying causes is never easy; there are no simple solutions. Ideally, the problems need to be addressed by African solutions and initiatives, supported by the world community. I would like to know what the Government are doing to support campaigns by African institutions to tackle such regional security issues.

Long-term solutions also require an awareness that support for food production and agricultural development for and by local communities is vital. I agree with what the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) said about that earlier. It is vital that we give more support for food production and agriculture, to increase resilience to short-term crises and to provide long-term opportunities for development.

It is not only Britain that has a role to play in this regard; there must be agreement and action in the international community. I endorse the comments made today by the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon.

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Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander). We have heard some interesting comments from the Back Benches, and from the Secretary of State, but what was missing was an idea of an overall strategy and cohesion of themes linking together the policy on international development. International meetings including the G8, the G20 and the Rio+20 summit are coming up, and we must also consider the future of the Doha round. They will all require a strategy, but we have not heard one today from the Foreign Secretary. Perhaps we will hear more in the closing comments from the Secretary of State for International Development, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell).

8.2 pm

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): At a time of great difficulty, it is always tempting to look inwards. However, it is now more important than ever to look outwards, because it is by engaging constructively with the world that we will see growth in our economy and security for our people, and help others to tackle grinding poverty and the effects of climate change. I therefore welcome the Government’s focus on exports, on inward and outward investment, on expanding the UK’s diplomatic network—I should like to echo the praise for the work of our diplomatic missions around the world—and on well-targeted development aid.

Figures released today show that UK exports—that is, exports of goods and services combined—have increased by 17% since March 2010 to £41.8 billion. Significantly, exports of goods to non-EU countries have risen from £10.8 billion in September 2010 to £13.1 billion in March this year. Almost all the recent increase involves exports of goods to non-EU countries. It is worth pointing out that six of the 10 fastest growing countries in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa—many of them are members of the Commonwealth—and it is to those countries that we should look for our growth in the next two to three decades.

British companies have been working very hard against fierce competition, but we cannot rest there. Britain has a lower percentage of small and medium-sized enterprises involved in exports than our rivals, and we need to help those companies to compete across the globe. Export Credits Guarantee Department cover has improved since last year, but I would urge the Government to ensure that our companies have access to the same cover as that enjoyed by their competitors in Germany and the Netherlands. At the moment, we fall considerably short of that goal.

One factor that is not quantifiable but is nevertheless significant for the UK’s export performance is the UK’s diplomatic network. A recent article in The Economist stated:

“Diplomats have been told to focus on three objectives: defending national security, looking after British citizens abroad and—above all—boosting prosperity by promoting British business. If Britain moves quickly, it can be the first European country to spot the vital need for long-haul, bilateral diplomacy, Mr Hague suggests.”

The Foreign Secretary is right. Too often, we have been complacent or slow off the mark, and lost traditional markets or failed to take the new opportunities, yet Britain is opening eight new embassies in Asia by 2015, at a time when others are cutting back, and despite a smaller budget.

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Meg Munn: Is not the hon. Gentleman illustrating the fact that there is quite a narrow focus on international issues? As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) said, there is no overriding theme running through the Foreign Office. Surely our diplomatic efforts should be about more than just trade. Did not the Government come unstuck in that way before, when the Prime Minister went abroad to promote trade at a time when there were real problems in the middle east that needed to be addressed through a much wider diplomatic effort?

Jeremy Lefroy: I would take a slightly different view, having worked with the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development and served on the International Development Committee. I have seen a joined-up approach between DFID and the Foreign Office; more so than ever before. I also see Foreign Office Ministers taking such issues as human rights and the environment extremely seriously. Perhaps that has not come out in some of the debates so far, but my experience on the ground is slightly different from that of the hon. Lady.

Tackling the trade deficit is not just about increasing exports, however. It is also about doing more at home in areas where we have traditionally been large importers. Let us take food and drink as an example. The trade deficit in 2011 was £17.8 billion on food and drink alone. Ensuring that UK farmers have a fair deal from their customers would give a significant boost to agriculture and horticulture, creating many jobs in the process, which is why producers in my Stafford constituency welcome the legislation to establish an independent adjudicator between supermarkets and their suppliers.

In recent years, we have been told that the UK can no longer compete in standard manufacturing, and that we must concentrate on high value-added products. I disagree. It is not either/or; it is both/and. As wages rise in developing countries and as the cost of transport increases, there is an advantage in being close to our markets and not bringing everything in from the other side of the world.

That brings me to a subject that, as a Conservative, I perhaps should not raise—but I will. As a nation, we need to be prepared to identify strategic areas of business and to back them—not to the exclusion of common sense, but with more than warm words. Germany and France do that, and we can hardly say that their economies are less competitive than ours. As a result, state-backed—perhaps I should say “encouraged”—French and German companies have taken over swaths of British manufacturing and service industries. Many are good businesses that invest heavily in the UK—Alstom and Total are examples in my constituency—and they reap the rewards, but we do not see the reverse happening to nearly the same extent. Is it that our companies are less adventurous, or is it that they have lacked support and encouragement from successive UK Governments and face obstacles at the other end that the single market is supposed to prevent? Sometimes I think that there is a single market in the EU, and that that single market is the UK. I will believe otherwise when I see Severn Trent running the Paris water supply and Virgin Trains operating on Deutsche Bahn.

The UK’s role in helping with security in troubled areas is underplayed. Understandably, we concentrate on Afghanistan, where our forces—including the Tactical

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Supply Wing, the 22nd Signal Regiment and 3rd

( )

Battalion the Mercian Regiment from my area—have done so much in working for stability for the people of that country and to make our nation safer. However, trainers from the UK armed forces work in many other parts of the world. Recently, several colleagues and I were privileged to see the work of the British Peace Support Team in Kenya. The UK is also involved in training peacekeepers from the Ugandan and Burundian armies who are undertaking the vital and dangerous UN mission in Mogadishu. The question is often asked: what will our armed forces do once operations in Afghanistan are over? One of the answers is that they would do more of the training of peacekeepers, at which they excel. They are the best in the world.

The Gracious Speech states that the Government

“has set out firm plans to spend nought point seven per cent of gross national income as official development assistance from 2013. This will be the first time the United Kingdom has met this agreed international commitment.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 May 2012; Vol. 737, c. 3.]

As hon. Members have pointed out, that commitment has been around for 40 years, since the Pearson commission in the late 1960s. The UK’s aid programme makes a huge difference to the lives of millions. As the Prime Minister said:

“The last Session of Parliament also made an impact not just at home but around the world. We fed more than 2.5 million people facing famine and starvation, we supported over 5.5 million children to go to school in the poorest countries of our world and we immunised a child against diseases every 2.5 seconds of the last parliamentary Session.”—[Official Report, 9 May 2012; Vol. 545, c. 17.]

It is a privilege to serve on the International Development Committee under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), who I see in his place, and to see the effects of the good use of UK taxpayers’ money on the lives of the poorest: children able to study in classrooms for the first time, and deaths from malaria plummeting when UK Government money supplies bed nets, rapid diagnostic tests and artemesinin in combination drugs. This is a programme that looks to the future, helping growth in the private sector so that jobs are created and income generated, supporting tax authorities so that Government revenues grow and reduce the need for aid.

If I were to highlight one area that has been neglected over the years and is now more important than ever—my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) referred to it—it would be agriculture, in particular smallholder agriculture. We are seeing substantial investment in agriculture by large corporations across the developing world. Where this is done alongside and in co-operation with existing landowners, particularly the small ones, it can work very well, as I saw on recent visits to Zambia and Malawi, by increasing production, productivity and employment. Sadly, however, this is sometimes not the case, as we see examples of large land grabs that leave people destitute.

Some have expressed disappointment that the Queen’s Speech does not mention legislating for 0.7%. I have to say that I do not share their disappointment, as I am keen first of all to reach that amount by showing through action that we can achieve it. Perhaps we could legislate afterwards, having shown the way. What has

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become increasingly clear to me over the past two years on the International Development Committee is that what matters is that we keep our commitment to the amount, that it is well spent on the poorest and, most important of all, that the countries we are helping make every effort to reduce their dependence on aid. Countries such as Zambia and Rwanda have set out their clear intention to eliminate their need for aid. I welcome this and suggest that the Government ask this of every country we work with.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman mentioned land grabs, as a serious issue is at stake. Many of the poorest countries in Africa are seeing their land bought up in large amounts by Japan, China and a number of other countries, which grow food that is then exported straight away. This means we have the phenomenon of very poor people starving alongside bounteous crops. Can we do anything about that through our aid programme?

Jeremy Lefroy: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, which concerns me greatly. I much prefer to see large companies working with smallholder farmers, allowing them to keep their land, perhaps leasing it off them for periods of time but with ownership being kept by the nationals. We need to look very seriously at this issue. I know that DFID does not engage in such activity and would not support it, but it is extremely important that we find out what can be done about it. I very much share the hon. Gentleman’s view on that.

Returning to the need to reduce dependence on aid, if a country sets out clearly how it intends to achieve this, it not only shows that the countries themselves are committed to growing their economies and their tax revenues, but gives the British people the confidence that development aid is a partnership with a clear goal.

With exports up, more embassies and other missions open, and a strong development aid programme, the UK is most certainly looking outwards. The key is to maintain this, not just through this Parliament, but for many years thereafter. In that way, Britain will continue to be a reliable partner in trade, in security and in the most vital work of helping the poorest in the world to a better future.

8.13 pm

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): I want to contribute on a number of issues, starting with international development. I support the aid target of 0.7% of GNI. It is a useful target. As others have said, it has been in place for many years, and it can help to identify an amount over time and enable us to compare what different countries are achieving. It is a real credit to the campaigners outside Parliament who pushed for our Governments to get to this stage, and it is a real credit to the last Labour Government that they set in motion the work to achieve that figure. It is also a real credit to this Government that they have retained the target. I have greatly enjoyed hearing support for it right across the Chamber, from Members of all parties. Let us remember that when the Labour Government came to power in 1997, international development aid had fallen to a quite low amount. From then onwards, we saw a steady increase towards the point when this Government have set out this firm commitment.

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There are two issues to discuss about the figure of 0.7%. Much of the discussion about international aid both within and without Parliament tends to focus on achieving that figure, but in my view we do not focus enough on what is being done with the money and why. Members have had the opportunity to see some of the projects in action—I saw them when I travelled overseas—but many people outside Parliament have not. We need not only to give more publicity to what is being done with that money in their name, but to be assured that it is being spent in the best possible way. Aid needs to be effective. While we focus on this figure, I think we need to talk more, plan more and do more in seeking clear outcomes. That is why clear goals such as the millennium development goals are important. We must develop the capacity of beneficiaries to become sustainable and productive economies.

I would like to provide some examples from a United Nations Development Programme report that has just been released—the “Africa Human Development Report 2012: Towards a Food Secure Future”. It tells us that 40% of African children aged under five are malnourished because while there have been impressive gross domestic product growth rates, these have not led to the elimination of hunger and malnutrition. The report also identifies that simply focusing on agriculture will not be enough. An approach that works with the whole community is important, including building rural infrastructure and health services.

Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab): My hon. Friend talks about the problems of malnourished children. It is important to realise that when children are malnourished, it amounts to a life sentence, as they are disadvantaged for the rest of their lives by being malnourished when they are born or in their earliest years.

Meg Munn: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. That is why it is so important that we learn from successes such as Ghana, the first sub-Saharan African country to achieve the millennium development goal of halving hunger, and Malawi, which, through a subsidy programme for seed and fertiliser, has moved within two years from a food deficit to a food surplus.

I do not think that the target needs to be put in law, as each Government put a Budget forward, and each Government have to make a case. Support has to come from parliamentarians, who need to explain why we need that figure. I do not think we should have lots of civil servants running around trying to find the money that qualifies for the target. I have heard people use a terrible term when they have asked whether this or that spending is “ODA-able”—does it count, and can we put it within the 0.7%? Do we need to be that prescriptive about the exact amount? Let us focus on the outcomes. I would also like to see greater focus on investing in improved governance. In the context of effective use of aid, good governance delivers better outcomes for populations.

Let me speak briefly about the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, of which I have the honour of being vice-chair. I am delighted that the Department for International Development, in conjunction with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is putting funds into the Westminster Foundation for Democracy for more work of this kind to be done. It is the 20th anniversary

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of this organisation. It works with Parliaments and political parties, which are essential to building democracies that are responsive to their populations. It is not only a legitimate focus for aid, but an essential one if we are to see long-lasting changes.

The Prime Minister reiterated that our troops will no longer be in Afghanistan in a combat role beyond the end of 2014. I want to restate my concerns about women in Afghanistan, and the importance of the Government speaking up for women. Anyone who has met women MPs from Afghanistan will know how brave they have to be, often even standing up against their families just to run for election to Parliament. I therefore welcome Ministers’ previous expressions of support in this House, but more can, and should, be done. Women’s safety and security, and guaranteeing their rights, needs more than a passing mention in speeches. Just two months ago, Afghanistan’s leading clerics declared the worth of women to be secondary to that of men, and President Karzai publicly endorsed that decree, despite the new constitution enshrining in law equal rights for women. We know that, despite significant improvements having been made for women and girls in Afghanistan, many women face danger or are the victims of violence, and often they are punished for reporting crimes against them, rather than supported as victims. I therefore ask the Government to say today that they will insist on women’s involvement in all levels of the Afghan peace process, and will consult Afghan women, who know what is happening in their communities, and will explicitly include women’s safety in all discussions on security.

I welcome the changes in Burma. We need to encourage and support them, but I want to offer a word of caution: we must not rush forward too quickly. The Foreign Secretary said there was a plan to open a business office in Naypyidaw, but we should not be too quick to say that that is our No. 1 priority. We want to see democratic processes put in place, and we want all the ethnic groupings in Burma to have the opportunity to take part in them fully. There is still a great deal to be done, therefore. There have been human rights abuses, as well as forced labour, arbitrary taxation, extortion, forced relocation and extrajudicial killings—a litany of problems that have long beset Burma, and have been the effect of the regime. That is not going to change overnight. Many minorities have been persecuted, and forced into camps on the Thai border. For example, for many years people from the Karen community have come to the UK—many to Sheffield. That was supported by the UN, because they were living in terrible conditions, and could not continue to do so. We must not rush to develop our trade with Burma, therefore. Instead, we must continue to offer support, and look at how we can encourage the embedding of democracy in that country, where the people so greatly deserve such changes.

Finally, I want to say a few words about the UK’s overseas territories. I welcome the fact that we are to have a new White Paper on the overseas territories, and I look forward to reading it. I hope we will continue to support our overseas territories through our international aid budget and that they will continue to have first call on that budget. Although there are many countries and situations around the world that are deserving of our

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support and aid, these are our overseas territories, and we therefore have an extra responsibility towards them. I have welcomed the agreement to develop an airport in St Helena. As the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) said, we should support and help countries and territories that need aid now. Without an airport, I am certain that St Helena would continue to need our ongoing aid well into the future.

For as long as we continue to have a responsibility towards our territories, we should continue to ensure that human rights are respected in them. We must continue to enforce the tight child protection procedures in the Pitcairn islands, for example. There may well come a point when some of our territories decide that they wish to become independent, however. In such circumstances, I would like our Government to give help and support so that territories can make that decision for themselves.

It is enormously important to reiterate that point in relation to the Falkland Islands. The Falkland islanders have long expressed the view that they wish to be British. The current behaviour of the Argentine Government, in trying to undermine their self-determination and their wish to remain British, is appalling.

8.24 pm

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab): We live in a complex and multi-dimensional world, and the rate of change is astonishingly quick. In order to deal with that change, it is important that we think carefully about Britain’s role in the world. I believe that the country needs a strategy. I believe the Government—indeed, any Government—need to work out what they want to achieve in the world, and what resources they have available to them to underpin that achievement. When they have done that, they need to work out how they are going to achieve what they want to achieve with the resources available to them. Of course, unforeseen crises will always arise, but the key question is: what is our vision and our strategy?

That is not rocket science—or, at least, it should not be—but that was not apparent in respect of the strategic defence and security review of October 2010. I agree that the politics should be taken out of that process by conducting a review every five years. Governments should conduct a detailed and comprehensive analysis of the world in which we live. From that analysis, they should draw conclusions, having consulted widely. We should never tire of asking this question: what is Britain’s role in the world? We should never tire of ensuring that how we allocate the billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money spent on achieving our foreign policy objectives is underpinned by rigorous analysis.

I have spoken before in this House about hard power—the controlled application of military force. Today however, I want to talk about international development and soft power—how the UK can have leverage in the world through employing the influence and diplomatic power we have as a nation, rather than the influence we could exert as a military power.

Inevitably, the balance between hard and soft power will fluctuate. That is not to say that the utility of military force has declined, but instead that the way in which it is likely to be employed in the future will not be the same as the way it is employed now or has been in

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the recent past. We are currently witnessing the rising influence of emerging economies such as those of the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China—which is reshaping the strategic environment in which our country operates. In this changing geopolitical environment, the way in which the UK and other countries exercise their influence in conflict, in the global markets, in negotiations and in agreements is also changing, and will continue to do so. In part, that reflects the way, and rate at which, countries are developing. Because of rapid developments in technology, the world is a much smaller place than it used to be.

Technological advances and globalisation bring many challenges, but they have also brought many opportunities to those best placed to take advantage of them. We now live in a world where, for some, luxuries such as a flatscreen TV and a DVD player have almost become necessities to ease the burden of our ever-stressful lives. However, for many millions of people in poorer countries a luxury takes the form of a decent meal or the security of knowing that their child has the same chance of survival as a child here in the UK. Although much good work has been done in recent years, much more can and should be done. So I believe this is more than a responsibility for wealthy nations; it is a moral obligation. This is about civilised societies reaching out and protecting the most vulnerable.

The UK has an excellent track record on international development. The previous Labour Government’s commitment to the provision of aid was well known, and we achieved great things, helping countries that were being crippled by debt and enabling them to focus better on domestic issues, rather than pay money to wealthy nations. That work was not perfect, it was not without risks and it was often controversial, but it was the right thing to do.

I welcome this Government’s commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income on aid, but they could and should have gone further by protecting that in law, as the Conservative manifesto and the coalition agreement promised. Legislation would have provided some certainty and a guarantee of funds, and it would have allowed long-term plans to be made, based on the knowledge that the resources would be in place to enable them to be fulfilled. By not including legislative protection for international aid, the Government are pandering to those who are not in favour of it. A global financial crisis is occurring, with recession having an impact on countries around the world. In this economic climate, we will all have heard people being sceptical and cynical about the value and utility of international aid, and suggesting that charity should begin at home. I understand why that is said, but in the context of trying to save a child’s life—any child’s life; ultimately, that is what aid can do—I do not agree with it. This is not just about one child; it is about many millions of children. What could anybody prioritise above them?

Just as a result of the work that has been done over the previous 20 years, 12,000 fewer children died every day in 2010 compared with the figure for 1990. Over the past two decades, the level of stunting, whereby children’s bodies and brains fail to develop properly because of malnutrition, has declined from 45% to 28%. Recent research by Save the Children shows that those countries in sub-Saharan Africa that received the most aid over the past decade also made the most progress on child

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well-being, so it is vital that aid is guaranteed, because famine rarely creeps up and surprises us. Investing early to prevent developing countries from slipping into famine is far more beneficial and efficient, and it is far cheaper, than responding to emergencies. Right now there is an impending famine in Niger, one than can be prevented if funds are made available in good time. The disastrous famine in east Africa was widely predicted, yet Governments around the world did not release the money in time to prevent it and millions died. The same thing is happening right now in west Africa, and few will notice until the media arrive.

Mr Andrew Mitchell: I make this point simply because the hon. Gentleman is the second hon. Member to make a comment such as that last one. The famine in Somalia was predicted, but the British Government were the first to go to the aid of the hundreds of thousands of people caught in that famine—the rest of the world was slow to do so. Will he at least acknowledge that his own Government and his own country, not least through the Disasters Emergency Committee, rapidly addressed that dreadful situation?

Dan Jarvis: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that intervention. The point I am trying to make is that we should not be in the business of waiting until the media arrive before we intervene and provide funding to deliver aid. The more that we can prepare for these situations, as much as we ever can, the more efficient we will be; the best way of investing money is in preventing these things from happening in the first place.

It costs comparatively little to immunise children with the vaccines that our children in the UK rightly have for free. Each year, 7.6 million children in developing countries still die as a result of easily preventable diseases and conditions such as diarrhoea. The removal of the next generation through infant mortality—the rate is still as high as one in 10 in some regions—takes away those who will be educated, who will work and who will bring money into their communities in future years. Small sums can save many lives, and international aid not only helps those who directly receive it, but, in the longer term, has a knock-on effect to those nations that give it. A healthy society is a more prosperous and stable society, and this will bring benefits to global security and to international trade. By helping countries through aid and by ensuring that resources are distributed in a way that minimises corruption, these countries will also build their own capacity to raise money and will be able to improve the lives of their citizens.

So, it is in our longer term national interests to behave in a responsible fashion, but we should not act alone. The G8 has a vital role to play and it is essential that the Prime Minister demonstrates strong leadership on preventive action against famine and disease and on the timely release of funds to prevent predicted disasters and crises, and that he urges immediate action by the other G8 countries in committing to that. The Prime Minister must take the opportunity provided at the G8 this weekend to lead a global push on tackling hunger and malnutrition, the silent killer that is responsible for the deaths of 2.6 million children each year, not just for the benefit of those countries in dire need but for the long-term future benefit of the UK, too.

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8.35 pm

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), who in his short time in this place has brought the experience of his previous work into Parliament. I congratulate him on his speech.

As I wanted to speak in this debate, I had to cancel a meeting with the chief executive of a company just across the river. He sent me an e-mail saying that he hoped I would be called—he does not understand how long we wait to speak—and said, “Could you please encourage the Government to concentrate on growth and not constitutional waffle?” I thought that that was a rather nice way of summing up Lords reform and I hope that we will see sense on that matter and not go forward with any discussion on it at all. It is not something for which any of our constituents are clamouring.

The Gracious Speech included two Bills on the European Union that the Government intend to introduce in this Session and I want to say a quick word about them. Neither Bill is the Bill that the public want to see. We know that the public, like many Members of this House, want a Bill that allows a referendum on our future relationship with the European Union. The public will note that, despite the passage of the European Union Act 2011, the Government propose to pass legislation to approve the creation of the European stability mechanism and to prepare for Croatia to join the EU without a referendum. Many members of the public were told that we did not need an in/out referendum because the Government would put it into law that any changes to our relationship with the EU would have to be approved by them. We can now see that that promise is inadequate because we will not have any say.

It is surprising that the Government are introducing the Croatia accession Bill. Personally—this is a very personal view—I cannot understand why Croatia would want to join the EU, but if it does that is obviously a matter for it. The ongoing expansion of the EU across the continent, well away from the small set of countries it comprised when we joined, shows that the European project is still very much alive in the hearts of the Brussels elite, who are pushing still for deeper and wider union despite the ongoing economic disaster. I believe—and believe that the public would want to see this—that if we are to be asked to pool our national sovereignty with yet another country with the result that in time our voice and our vote count for less in the European Parliament, that changes our relationship and should lead to a referendum.

Preparations for the European stability mechanism might also be premature. Only today we have the meeting between the new President of France and the German Chancellor with the intention of amending the austerity pact which the euro countries signed up to last year. I welcome the fact that eurozone countries should pay to support other countries that are struggling under that currency, but as we wisely did not join, we should not have to contribute a penny. We have already given too much money to propping up the euro through the International Monetary Fund. I remind the Government that the public will not stand for that, as we have seen from the increasing votes for the UK Independence party.

I was disappointed that neither of the Front-Bench spokesmen—I might be mistaken, but I listened very carefully—mentioned the word Commonwealth. Yet that

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is an association of 54 independent states that work together in the common interests of their citizens for development, democracy and peace. We just need to contrast that with the European Union. The Commonwealth works to uphold democratic rights and nurture constitutional government and parliamentary accountability, whereas the European Union increasingly seeks to thwart and ride roughshod over the democratic will of citizens to such an extent that it wants to install unelected bureaucrats as Prime Ministers of countries.

It is terribly sad that we are not making much more use of the Commonwealth. Despite the size and economic entity of the Commonwealth, the UK Government never talk about it as a huge economic union. We talk about individual countries within it but what about the fact that it accounts for 15% of the world’s gross national income and contains more than 2 billion of the world’s 7 billion population? We have a special link in this year of Her Majesty’s diamond jubilee. As the head of the Commonwealth, she is passionately concerned about it and has done so much as a monarch to ensure its importance and to ensure that we remember what it has done. So although the Commonwealth contains 2 billion of the world’s 7 billion people, there was not a single mention of it in the Queen’s Speech or, more importantly, tonight.

Jeremy Lefroy: Will the hon. Lady acknowledge that many countries that do not have traditional links with Britain are seeking to join the Commonwealth? Rwanda is already a member, as is Mozambique, and countries such as Burundi want to forge links with the Commonwealth.

Kate Hoey: Absolutely, and that shows the strength and power of the relationship, which does not bind countries into a centralised you-will-all-do-the-same-thing approach but welcomes and supports them as individual countries. Let us not forget that the Commonwealth’s membership includes two of the world’s largest 10 economies—the UK and India—and two members of the G7: Canada and the UK. It also includes five members of the G20: the UK, India, Canada, Australia and South Africa. It has huge global significance and huge potential and also has the advantage of being a group of countries that are friendly, in most cases, including many with deep reserves of key natural resources. It is absolutely disgraceful that we in the United Kingdom are not seeing the Commonwealth as somewhere to which we should be reaching out. Ultimately, we should be establishing a Commonwealth free trade area. That would, of course, mean examining our relationship with the European Union, but our relationship with some of the large Commonwealth countries will be much more important in the long term. I therefore ask the Minister to mention the word Commonwealth in his response and say something about it just to show the Commonwealth countries that we care and that in this year of the diamond jubilee Her Majesty and this Parliament consider the Commonwealth to be worthy of discussion.

Having been quite critical, let me now say something nice about the International Development Secretary. The Department for International Development has been doing a very good job indeed and I want to mention in particular the work it has been doing in

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Zimbabwe, which has been terrifically important and useful. This covers so many of the issues that other Members have been discussing such as getting books into schools and has been a terrific opportunity for us to be sure that we are doing our bit for the education of children in what was once a fantastically well-educated country, despite all the issues there. I hope that until there are free and fair elections there we will continue to do our bit to ensure that primary schoolchildren have the opportunity to read and have an education.

I was very moved by the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock) and particularly of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton), who I know had another engagement to attend. I, too, was at St Paul’s yesterday to hear the Dalai Lama. I am a member of the all-party group on Tibet and I was very disappointed that although the thousands of Chinese students in this country were mentioned in the Government’s introduction to the debate, not a word was said about the Chinese Government’s human rights record and the appalling way they have treated not only the Tibetans but people in many other parts of China. The difference between what my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford said about Palestine and the terrible things she saw and what my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East said about Tibet is that at least the media can still get access to the refugee camps and Palestine. Yes, that is difficult but they and parliamentary delegations can get in, whereas it is incredibly difficult to get into Tibet these days. It has become a closed country to anyone who is not seen as absolutely supporting the Chinese regime.

Our Government should be speaking out more about this issue. We should be forming alliances with other countries and not allowing China to get away with what it is doing just because it is such a huge and economically powerful country.

When China was selected to host the Olympics, everyone said, “It’s going to make such a difference. China is going to change. It will change its human rights record and start freeing prisoners.” Have we seen any changes in China since the Beijing Olympics? I have seen nothing that has made a difference, and the fact that the Olympics were held there has certainly not made any difference to the brave Tibetans who are trying so desperately not just to have a free Tibet, but to be allowed to practise their culture and their religion. What has been happening there is shocking, and I hope that the Minister will make some reference to that.

Our Government have done some very good things through their foreign policy. I am delighted that they are opening up some of our embassies in parts of the world that were closed. I am pleased that they have made a decision that the UK flag must take precedence over the European Union flag. That is just a tiny little change, but it is very important and I welcome it. I pay tribute to our many ambassadors all over the world who do such a good job, trying to ensure that the United Kingdom’s voice is heard in those countries and that we stand up for the values that this country represents.

Finally, please, please would Ministers and shadow Ministers stop referring to Britain, Britain, Britain? We are the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. If I hear the Prime Minister say once more, “Britain is this” and “Britain is that”, I am going to get

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very cross indeed. We are the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Britain excludes Northern Ireland; Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom.

8.46 pm

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): There has been a consensus across the House tonight, so it is odd that I should follow my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) in commenting on the European Union. It is at this point, perhaps, that the House may diverge from the consensus.

I want to concentrate on economic policy in the context of the economic crisis affecting the eurozone. This Queen’s Speech—this legislative programme—says more about the state of a crumbling coalition than anything else. We are facing a growth and jobs crisis, yet there is not one proposal in the speech that will tackle the problems that we face. Of course we know why the legislative programme is so thin. It is because, as we know, on many fundamental points the two parties in the coalition do not agree. For example, they have major disagreements on Europe, civil liberties and constitutional reform. Let us be clear. This is a Government who, after only two years, have pinned their colours—both of them—to the mast of austerity and have run out of ideas.

There is no doubt that we are in difficult times, probably the most difficult that the country has faced for many decades, but there is no doubt in my mind who are to blame: this Government. When they came to power in 2010, growth was evident in the economy, unemployment was stable, and the economy, although fragile, was recovering from the massive shock of the world economic crisis of 2008. Since then we have seen growth all but vanish, choked off by a Government who cut too far and too fast.

To make matters worse, the eurozone seems determined to follow the same path, the path of austerity, the path that refuses to recognise that there is a huge problem with demand in the economies of Europe. The attitude of taking the medicine, taking the pain, no matter what, is the prevalent attitude, and Europe seems intent on executing a dance of death, with austerity piled on austerity. Europe’s leaders have told us that the only way out of the current crisis is through massive spending cuts and tax rises, and when that does not work, more cuts and more tax rises—more cuts in pensions, with punishing measures being imposed on countries in desperate straits, such as Greece and Portugal.

Mr MacShane: Will my hon. Friend accept a very minor correction? There is one exception to this general rule. In our country, we have decided to cut taxes, but only for the super rich and the millionaires. This Government of millionaires, two of whom have spoken to us tonight—or one has and one will—are helping their own and leaving the rest of the country to rot in misery.

Angela Smith: I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. We are clearly not all in it together. Rather than cutting VAT, which would help the economy, we have tax cuts for the very rich.

Yes, I have to acknowledge that the latest growth figures indicate that the eurozone has avoided a technical recession, but let us not get carried away with one set of

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figures. Let us note that it is higher than expected growth in the German economy that has kept the eurozone out of recession, with many other members of the eurozone still in recession. In fact, most of the other members of the eurozone are still in recession. Let us remember that this is a Germany that, as one of the most productive countries in the world, has been able to take advantage of the eurozone to boost exports, but which has pursued a policy of not expanding its domestic economy, and even now, it is not moving on that front, even when it is now clear to everybody that demand in Europe is a key problem. If anything, these latest figures amplify the unbalanced nature of the eurozone, with a strong country such as Germany forcing unbearable austerity and massive debt on the weaker southern countries, in an attempt to make them as competitive as the north—a difficult task even in good times and, I fear, an impossible one in a weak global economy with rising unemployment across the eurozone and the Greek economy 20% smaller than it was at the start of the crisis.

This Queen’s Speech is woefully inadequate in the context of what is happening to our country and across Europe. The medicine is not working, yet all we get from our Chancellor is the accusation that it is all the fault of the eurozone and that Chancellor Merkel should stop speculating on what will happen to the euro. No, the problem is not the musings of Chancellor Merkel; the problem is the damage her policies are inflicting on the eurozone, and, equally, the damage our Chancellor’s policies are inflicting here at home. So much for an export-led recovery. The Chancellor must rue the fact that his own prescriptions for economic health are backfiring at home and abroad.

Clearly, we need to identify an alternative approach, and the Queen’s Speech should have built on the experience of Obama’s stimulus legislation in the United States. That package of tax cuts, infrastructure investment and job creation has worked. The US is growing economically and unemployment is falling, from 10% in 2009 to 8.2% in 2011, with independent forecasts in the US showing that the ongoing impact of the stimulus package will be positive. I was in the US recently and it was clear, talking to independent forecasters, think tank personnel, pollsters and commentators across the board, that the stimulus package has worked. The figures prove it; they are undeniable. It is astounding that Europe is making the same mistakes that it made in the 1930s. If America can learn from that, why cannot we?

We needed to see in the Queen’s Speech an acknowledgement that austerity is not working and a commitment therefore to measures designed to stimulate the economy. Labour’s fair deal on tax and its fair deal on jobs would have been a good start. We needed to see a focus on demand rather than supply, and we needed to see that commitment accompanied by an acknowledgement that it is no good standing on the sidelines, sniping at our key economic partners in the eurozone, blaming them for all Britain’s woes. In the end, the problems that we all face are being worsened by the same paltry remedies, which destroy growth and jobs. We needed to see the Prime Minister commit himself to a change of course, and to working within the EU, with figures such as new French President

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Hollande, to encourage that change of course with the eurozone itself. Only then will there be any hope of growth, any hope of the kind of recovery that will allow trade to flourish, and, yes, any hope for Britain’s exports to flourish as part of that growth. There is no point having a Prime Minister who stands on the sidelines having walked away from the table. We are part of Europe and need to play our part within Europe.

Finally, we needed the Queen’s Speech to acknowledge that the economic crisis is beginning to polarise Europe politically and socially. Across Europe, we see the rise of political parties outside what is usually understood as the mainstream and away from the pragmatic centre, particularly in relation to the debate on EU policy and the eurozone. In Greece, one of those parties holds the balance of power. In Holland, opinion polls show a huge rise in support for the anti-European Socialist party. In France, one in five voters in the presidential election voted for the Front National. In Britain, the vote for the UK Independence party in the local elections grew: in Sheffield it got 12,000 votes, only 10,000 behind the Liberal Democrats.

That is worrying on one level, because it demonstrates that we are not immune from this worrying polarisation away from mainstream politics in Europe, a trend that reflects social unrest and the deep concerns felt by voters everywhere about their future. We must listen to voters—I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall on this—and to what people are saying in Europe. They are beginning to tire of austerity, which they no longer believe is working. They are saying the same in Germany, and they are saying it in Greece, France and here, too.

The future does not look bright. Who knows what will happen politically and socially in Europe, including the UK, if Governments do not recognise the need to change course? The Queen’s Speech should have charted a new economic course and recognised that job creation, decent housing and decent public services for all are essential if we are to avoid a worsening of our economic and political situation. The fact that it did not bodes ill for us all, and I for one fear for the future.

8.56 pm

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow so many powerful speeches tonight, particular several in a row from my hon. Friends. I would like to address two main issues this evening: the Government’s failure to give the ultimate commitment to help the poorest in our world and the total absence of anything in the Queen’s Speech on policy affecting Israel and the Palestinians. I declare my membership of Friends of Palestine. However, I welcome the mention of Congo in the speech by the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) and ask the Minister whether there are plans for a flight early next month to force Congolese nationals to return to that dangerous country. I hope that that is not the case.

To return to the aid budget, it says a lot about what the Government stand for when they are happy to give a tax break to millionaires yet cannot bring themselves to commit, through a statement enshrined in the law of the land, to helping some of the poorest people in the world in the longer term––people who live in the kind of abject poverty that we cannot even begin to understand.

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Indeed, the Prime Minister previously said that spending money on foreign aid in a time of austerity was a sign of “moral strength” and that Britain should be proud that

“we never turn our backs on the world’s poorest”.

But in the light of the Queen’s Speech last week, when the Government failed to enshrine in law the commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on development assistance, the Prime Minister’s words were just further proof that they are a Government of broken promises, following such gems as

“there will be no top-down reorganization of the NHS”,

“we are all in this together”,


“my promise to pensioners is that we are on your side.”

I am proud that Labour made a commitment to meet the UN’s target of spending 0.7% of GNI on aid and to legislate on it by 2013, and I was pleased when that was taken on by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats and included in the coalition agreement. I thought that surely the Government would not revoke that policy, which would prove to the country that the Tories were no longer the nasty party and that they genuinely believed in the moral duty of rich countries to help the poorest parts of the world. As the International Development Secretary said this year,

“On the whole, politicians should do what they say they are going to do”.

However, the Government now claim that a Bill to enshrine such a commitment in law cannot be introduced due to lack of parliamentary time, given their focus on the economy and, of course, the all important matter affecting the other place. That is a ridiculous notion. The Queen’s Speech did nothing to stimulate growth in the economy, nothing for young people looking for work, nothing for families whose living standards are being squeezed and nothing for small businesses that cannot get money from the bank.

Rather than telling developing nations, “Sorry, but we are simply too busy tackling the pressure issue of House of Lords reform and the accession of Croatia to the EU to provide you with proper assistance to help your citizens climb out of poverty,” a Bill committing to spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid would not and should not detract from other parliamentary business. It is supported by all three parties, would do much to show the international community that there is a genuine commitment to standing up for global social justice, and would undoubtedly increase the pressure on other countries to do more.

Legislation would also ensure that aid is maintained at an affordable level. Just as the absolute aid level may fall when Britain’s income goes down, so too should it rise when the national income goes up. As the charity ActionAid stated, legislation matters because aid needs to be around long enough to do the job. Many countries such as Ghana are now moving towards an end to dependency on aid, but that can happen only if we support them until that point. Legislation would provide the certainty that is needed for aid to be most effective.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend surprised that there is not enough time, bearing it in mind that we have spent weeks—no, months—without many votes at all? Surely there is time for such important legislation.

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Alex Cunningham: There is certainly time for such important legislation. We could get it through the House in one of those one-day things, It would not take any time at all for us to get this single commitment through the House, so I hope that the Government listen to the idea.

I want to say more about why aid is so important. No one can argue that aid is a panacea for all the developing world’s ills, but there is very strong evidence that international aid, including UK aid, is making a huge difference by helping to deliver and to scale up local efforts to save lives, educate children, develop livelihoods, stimulate growth, build democratic and fair societies and promote peace and security.

In 2009-10, UK aid ensured that 15 million people had enough food to eat and provided more than 1.5 million people with clean water, and over the next few years the UK’s contribution to the Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunisations will ensure that 80 million children can be immunised worldwide, saving an estimated 1.4 million lives.

Indeed, as the Secretary of State for International Development himself said, British aid pays for 5 million children in developing countries to go to primary school every day, which is roughly the same number as go to primary school in Britain, yet it costs only 2.5% of what we spend here.

There is still much to be done to ensure that every child in the world can get an education, and that every family can live with dignity and access health care and services as basic as clean water and sanitation. It is still estimated that 67 million children throughout the world are not yet in primary school, and that about 1,000 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and child birth every day in developing countries. This is not the time to turn our backs on those who are most in need, so I appeal to the Government to do the right thing. I believe that we will spend the money, but I want it enshrined in law.

I welcome the continuing work to secure long-term peace and security in Afghanistan, but I was disappointed by the absence of a similar commitment to building peace in other parts of the middle east, although the Foreign Secretary spoke at length on such matters today. I recently led a debate in the Commons on the dire humanitarian situation in Jerusalem, and, although there was some will from the Foreign Office Minister, the issue was conspicuous by its absence from the Queen’s Speech.

Last night, I heard the Palestinian ambassador tell a packed room here at Westminster that the daily expansion of settlements and the effective removal of Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem and the west bank are threatening any chance of a two-state solution. Time is running out, he said, yet the British Government have no clear plan for action in our own right or through our European partners.

So why take action? In 2011, more than 500 Palestinian homes, wells, rain water harvesting cisterns and other essential structures were destroyed in the west bank, including East Jerusalem, displacing more than 1,000 Palestinians. More than half of those displaced were children, for whom the loss of their home is particularly devastating, but the situation is not hopeless, and the Government can do much to help improve the Palestinian

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people’s quality of life and to start to build the foundations for a peaceful future. Simple but effective measures that the Government could take to develop things in that part of the world include introducing compulsory labelling for all goods so that consumers can tell at a glance whether a product is made in an illegal settlement or in Israel, ensuring that legislation allows for public bodies to exclude companies from benefiting from public contracts where those companies operate in breach of international law, and ensuring that charitable donations that benefit from tax relief do not in any way benefit illegal settlements on the west bank or in East Jerusalem.

The Government should press the EU to exclude companies from benefiting from research funding where those companies are operating in breach of international law and to end co-operation with countries on research that could have military as well as civil applications where we are not satisfied with those countries in respect of human rights, UN resolutions and international law. I urge the Government also to press the EU not to adopt with Israel the agreement on conformity assessment and acceptance of industrial products, as that would open up EU markets to Israeli goods and, in effect, represent an upgrade in EU-Israeli relations. Surely any such upgrade must be conditionally tied to respect of human rights and international law. The agreement would also allow Israel to export fresh and processed agricultural products to the EU free of customs or quota limitations. That is problematic, since it would be impossible to identify agricultural products, especially processed agricultural products, that originate from illegal settlements, and members of the public to whom I speak are keen to use their consumer power to bring about change in the region.

The omission of a commitment to aid and of comprehensive action to take some steps towards ensuring a two-state settlement for Israel and Palestinians shows a severe lack of ambition on the part of the Government. Britain does have the power to bring about change in the world and to improve the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable on the planet, and shirking our responsibility is no way to conduct a foreign policy.

9.6 pm

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): Today is the 64th anniversary of Nakba, the catastrophe that saw the ethnic cleansing of 50% of Palestinians from historical Palestine with the formation of the state of Israel. I am pleased to follow my very good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), and to endorse his comments about the situation in the occupied territories. Nakba is not just an historical event. As the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish said, Nakba is

“an extended present that promises to continue in the future.”

That is not only true of major events such as the occupation following the 1967 war, the massacres at Sabra and Shatila in 1982, and Operation Cast Lead in 2009; it is to do with the day-to-day suffering and oppression of the Palestinian people.

Earlier this afternoon, I had the privilege of listening to the excellent speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock)

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about Palestinian child prisoners. She rightly noted two positive moves in the past 24 hours: the communiqué from EU Foreign Ministers that condemned settlement expansion and home demolition, and the end of the hunger strike by 2,000 Palestinian prisoners and the concessions that led to that. However, those two events also demonstrate the lengths that Palestinians must go to in order to secure redress for basic infringements of their human rights and of international law. They also demonstrate that words, even from the EU—a powerful organisation—will be ignored by Israel unless they are backed by action.

Since the occupation, 40% of the adult male population of Palestine and the occupied territories have been detained in Israeli jails. There are currently 6,000 Palestinians detained in Israeli jails, including 200 children, 330 people in administrative detention—that is, without charge—and 28 MPs. I entirely support the impassioned comments that Members have made about the detention of the former Ukrainian Prime Minister, but 28 Palestinian MPs are being detained in Israeli jails, in most cases since 2006, and in many cases without charge.

Many people are detained in appalling conditions in solitary confinement in 2 metre by 2 metre cells, with just a bed and a bucket, for 23 hours a day for up to 10 years. That includes leaders of the Palestinian people—people such as Marwan Barghouti, who was put into solitary confinement last month. He is tipped to be a future President of Palestine. I think of the way that the British treated people like Kenyatta and Gandhi. My conclusion is that unless there is a level playing field and unless one is prepared to negotiate with those who will form the future Palestinian leadership, there is no chance for the peace process. One has to ask, therefore: what is the future of the peace process? Does Israel want a peace process?

There is a new Israeli Government. We are told that they will have the confidence not to be enslaved to the ultra-religious minorities. Their first act was to have the confidence once again to refuse a freeze on settlement building, because they have such a large majority. Why is settlement building such an important precondition to negotiations? Of course, at the level of principle, the 500,000 Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem and the west bank need to be negotiated away. To increase on a logarithmic scale, as is happening at the moment, the number of settlers and the extent of the settlements while negotiations are going on is surely wrong. Surely that is wrong practically, because there is no incentive for Israel, while it is getting what it wants—the Judaisation of East Jerusalem and the west bank—to conclude the negotiations.

The settlements are not just the nice red-roofed settlements that are sometimes advertised for sale in this country; even the outposts that are now illegal under Israeli law are now being legitimised. Settler violence against Palestinians in the west bank has gone up by 144% in two years. Home demolitions are on the increase, with some 176 Palestinian homes being demolished in the first three months of this year. Bedouin villages are being wiped out, not only in the west bank, but in Israel itself.

I do not have time to talk about Gaza, but I suspect that the Minister knows the statistics on Gaza and knows that it is the world’s largest prison. Imports may get in, in limited amounts, through tunnels and checkpoints,

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but no exports come out. The unemployment and poverty in Gaza will not be alleviated until the entrepreneurial people of Gaza, whom I have visited many times, are allowed to grow and export their own goods.

The Government operate a double standard on this issue and refuse to recognise the Palestinian state. They have another chance to do so in the General Assembly, which I hope they will take. Israel should be supported and should be a friendly country, but it should not be given a special or privileged status. I read in the Jewish Chronicle two weeks ago about the support that the Israeli Government gave Argentina during the Falklands war, supplying weapons for use against British troops. I never quite understand, therefore, the special relationship that Governments of both parties think that they have with the Israelis, to the exclusion of the Palestinians.

In the short time I have left, I will talk briefly about two other issues. The first is Bahrain. At the end of the week, the King of Bahrain will arrive in the United Kingdom and be entertained, inter alia, by the royal family. Like the grand prix and the Bahraini Prime Minister being invited to Downing street, this lends respectability to a tyrannical regime. The majority of the population in Bahrain is in lockdown. Murder, torture and detention without charge continue, following the popular uprising last spring. And yet, the Foreign Secretary talks about the improving situation. I wish that he would talk more about the detention without charge of people such as Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. I wish that the Government would revoke the invitation to the King of Bahrain.

Finally, I wish to say a word about Egypt, which I do not think the Foreign Secretary mentioned, although it is the leading country in the Arab world. The situation there is grave. The presidential elections might be postponed because of the trouble that is occurring. I looked at the Amnesty International briefing for this debate, which states:

“Human rights violations continue to take place in Egypt, in some cases to a worse extent than under Mubarak. Military trials continue, reports of torture being used are frequent, freedom of expression is curtailed and peaceful demonstrations have been met with violence and repression.”

We need to take a strong economic and political interest in what is happening in Egypt. There are strong progressive forces there, and one easy thing that the Government could do to support them would be to co-operate in the extradition of criminals from the Mubarak regime who are walking about freely in London and in the freezing of hundreds of millions of pounds of their assets in London or Britain. Switzerland froze the assets of the Mubarak family within hours of his standing down, but it took us about six weeks. Despite repeated attempts, I have been unable to get either the Foreign Office or the Home Office to confirm what action they are taking.

I very much appreciated what the Foreign Secretary said about the Government’s continuing support for, and confidence in, the Arab spring, but they need to go further than words. They need to support popular and democratic forces in the middle east both economically and politically. They may be in Palestine, Egypt or Bahrain. Let us not just take the easy option and condemn Gaddafi and Assad; let us be even-handed across the piece.

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9.16 pm

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): This has been a wide-ranging debate touching on all parts of the globe. There have been many brilliant insights into what is going on in the world and the UK’s role in the changing world. My contribution, in contrast, will focus on my constituents’ response to the issues in Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech and will therefore be wide-ranging in a different way.

I have listened carefully to what people in the Scunthorpe area have said in the weeks leading up to the Queen’s Speech and beyond. It is a real shame that the Government have failed to capitalise on the cross-party agreement to legislate to meet the UN’s target of spending 0.7% of gross national income on international aid. That will disappoint Marilyn Woodrow, who e-mailed me recently asking that I urge the Prime Minister to take action to address the terrible problem of world hunger. She pointed out that 300 children die from hunger each and every hour. UNICEF’s figures show that 10.9 million children under five die in developing countries every year, and that malnutrition and hunger-related diseases cause 60% of those deaths. The Prime Minister should show leadership on that issue at the forthcoming G8 summit.

I was extremely pleased to join the children of Scunthorpe Church of England primary school for their “Go for Gold” assembly, in which they drew attention to the 67 million children worldwide who never get the opportunity to go to school and are denied education and opportunity. The Scunthorpe children recognise their privileged position, which is why they are involved in the “Send My Friend to School” campaign. They asked me to call on the Prime Minister to back the campaign.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): Has my hon. Friend raised with his local schoolchildren, as I have with mine, the fact that although we are told primary education is free in many developing countries, hidden charges often stop children going to school? They cannot afford to pay for their lunches, extra lessons or uniform, and that precludes their getting a basic education.

Nic Dakin: My hon. Friend is right and makes her point extremely well.

Eliminating world hunger and helping get 67 million children to school can be driven through global leadership, which we could have shown by taking advantage of the cross-party consensus and legislating for 0.7% of gross national income to be spent on international aid from 2013. That would have resonated around the world, to the benefit of us all in the developed and developing worlds.

Let me deal with other matters. I welcome the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill. I and other hon. Members have urged action on the matter for some time. As Alex Godfrey of the North Lincolnshire branch of the National Farmers Union writes,

“thank you for your help on the groceries code adjudicator. Finally it was in the Queen’s Speech! I was really pleased to hear that complaints from third parties will be allowed.”

Alex puts his finger on a key issue, and I will keep my eye on it as the Bill progresses to the statute book. The Government need to provide the adjudicator with the powers to ensure a fair deal across the supply chain. That means an adjudicator with the power to investigate the claims of trade associations or whistleblowers, and to penalise companies that breach the code.

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Sadly, the welcome for the grocery adjudicator is more than outweighed by the disappointment felt by the woman in her 80s who rushed to see me last week because she was so downhearted and dispirited by rumours that the reform of adult care and support was to be delayed. Thirty years ago, her son had an accident that left him severely paralysed. He is strong willed, intelligent and resilient and so, despite his disabilities, he managed to continue to make a contribution to society. However, he needs full-time, round-the-clock care, which his mother provides. She has done that with no support forthcoming from the state. Uncomplaining and determined, she was nevertheless distressed to learn that the Government were putting the reform of adult care and support on the backburner—on the “too difficult” pile.

Another local woman writes movingly of her experience of supporting her mother, who suffers from dementia:

“What I want to know is which agencies are out there for us to call on to support us to care for our Mum. It doesn’t seem right that an adult as vulnerable as my Mum is not under the care of a social care or mental health team or a Memory Clinic. I don’t care whether she has dementia or Alzheimer’s or not. What I do care about is that her needs are not being met.

I have no desire to take any of the individual services to task. I just want to move forward in a positive way with caring for my Mum and know where to turn to receive the necessary support when problems arise. Surely there should be a clear sign-posting to people who like me find themselves in this stressful and difficult position. Where we have Sure Start we should also have Sure End…There is a desperate need for a service like this and this need will become greater.”

Adult care and support is one of biggest challenges for us. We should not play politics with it, but we should all put our shoulder to the wheel and use our united, combined and determined efforts to find real solutions. A draft Bill is disappointing, but it is also an opportunity. The hopes and fears of many people throughout the land, with stories like those of the ageing mother with the paraplegic son, and the caring daughter with the severely ailing mother, are focused on us all. We owe it to them to step up to the plate.

The issues in the Gracious Speech about which people have contacted me are therefore international aid, the grocery adjudicator and adult care and support. However, what most people wanted and talked to me about was absent from it. Where is the plan for jobs and growth? Where is the industrial policy that manufacturing areas such as Scunthorpe badly need? Where are the plans to help energy-intensive industries such as the steel industry? Sadly, the Business Secretary was right that the Government have “no compelling vision” to address those issues.

Like my constituents, I am underwhelmed by the Government’s programme for the forthcoming Session. It is a missed opportunity, a damp squib and a disappointment.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I call Seema Malhotra, who must resume her seat no later than 9.30.

9.23 pm

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): I am honoured to speak in my first Queen’s Speech debate as a Member of Parliament, and to make some comments on Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech.

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I endorse Opposition Members’ sentiments that Britain had hoped for so much more. We are in a double-dip recession for the first time in 37 years and we face the worst unemployment for 16 years. The talents of a million young people are being wasted.

Before I refer to wider issues of concern to my constituents, let me welcome the Government’s support for Labour’s overseas aid commitment of 0.7% of gross national income. I am disappointed, however, by the Government’s sleight of hand—as if nothing had happened—in rowing back from enshrining the pledge in law. The proposal has cross-party support and was included in the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos and promised in the coalition agreement, but was missing from the Queen’s Speech.

I am proud that my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis), has urged the Secretary of State for International Development to include overseas aid legislation in the Government’s plans. This is not about a level of spend for one year and saying, “Job done”, but a statement about Britain’s role in the world and our commitment, as a compassionate nation, to the development of the poorest countries of the world.

I am also proud that the Labour Government were recognised as a world leader in tackling global poverty and supporting the millennium development goals and progress for women and girls around the world. They tripled Britain’s aid budget, helping 40 million more children into school. We know, however, that much more needs to be done not just on spend but on reform of overseas aid to make the necessary difference. That includes structural change, governance and infrastructure to ensure the right trajectory of progress and to help nations better to help themselves in the long run.

The Queen’s Speech not only contained a weakened commitment on international development but fell short on the domestic front. The speech started well, finally acknowledging what the Opposition have called for—a focus on economic growth. However, for a young person in my constituency looking for work, it offered no hope, and for families, such as the 1,900 local households that have recently had their tax credits cut, it offered no hope. With nearly 3,000 people unemployed in Feltham and Heston and an increase of more than 200% in long-term youth unemployment last year, the Government appear to think that the answer is to make it easer to fire rather than hire people.

The economy is in recession not because of the UK’s employment law regime but because the Government are cutting spending too far, too fast, hitting business confidence and choking off growth. Removing the rights of workers will most likely increase job insecurity and damage work force morale, productivity and therefore the economy. The needs of small businesses, of which there are more than 6,000 in my constituency, have also been sidelined in the Queen’s Speech. It should have been about making a difference now, not just about measures that will, we hope, make a difference in the medium term.

No hope was offered to those small and medium-sized enterprises that cannot get money from the bank. A survey by the Federation of Small Businesses found that 22% of businesses cited access to finance as a barrier to growth in the last quarter. We need urgent

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action to boost lending now, which is why Labour is looking at plans for a British bank for small business for the long term.

By all means, let us have an important debate about the development of skills in this country to ensure that our work force has the skills our businesses and economy need and to minimise the national skills gap. That is a forward-looking investment strategy that gets Britain excited, not a simplistic headline grab that demoralises our workers. We need a plan to grow and earn our way out of this double-dip recession, not a sentence at the start of a speech. People need to know that the Government are on their side, not a Government of the rich, for the rich. Sadly, the speech last week, following the Budget in March, suggests that that is exactly what they are.

9.28 pm

Mr Ivan Lewis (Bury South) (Lab): This has been a high-quality debate at a time when a strong, intelligent British voice has never been more important, as the world faces a number of complex, high-stakes challenges: the eurozone crisis; the negotiations between E3 plus 3 with Iran aimed at securing Iranian compliance with its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty; enduring poverty and growth inequality in a world where more than 70% of the poorest now live in middle-income, not developing countries; the appalling repression and violence in Syria; the impact of the Arab spring; the lack of political progress towards a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians; continued instability in the horn of Africa; and disappointing global progress on trade and climate change. All these require British foreign, defence and development policies that are joined up and have clear strategic objectives.

It is of serious concern, therefore, that only today the Atlantic Council has criticised the incoherence of the Government’s foreign policy, as well as the complacent approach to key alliances in Europe and the United States. The Government should take seriously criticism that comes from such an independent and widely respected body.

In any foreign affairs debate we should reflect on the tremendous debt of gratitude we owe to the brave men and women who serve on the front line in Afghanistan. Their courage and professionalism represent Britain at its best. We must always remember those who have fallen and their loved ones left to grieve—husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters: every life precious, no life given in vain; we are humbled by their sacrifice.

I want to focus primarily on aid and development—we get few opportunities in this Chamber to do so—but let me first briefly acknowledge the many important contributions that right hon. and hon. Members have made. First, as we heard from the hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) and my hon. Friends the Members for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann), for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), it is important at this difficult time, in an age of austerity, that Members of this House are willing to make the case for aid at every opportunity. I will talk a little more about that later.

The hon. Members for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) and for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) made a really important point about the centrality of the role

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played by women in places such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Where there are no women’s rights, we find no progress on development. There is a direct correlation between the two. Gender should be at the heart of development policy, not a “siloed” issue.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) brought his usual knowledge and passion to this debate. He reminded us once again that our relationship with the European Union is central to our economic future. If we are to make any economic progress whatever, we need a policy of being at the heart of Europe, rather than being isolated in Europe. He was also right to make the point that the failure of the strategic defence review was not just a failure to respond to the defence challenges of the future; rather, it amounted to waving the white flag to the Treasury, in terms of the resources available to fulfil our various responsibilities.

The hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) talked about the Sahel. I recently visited Chad, and he was absolutely right to raise that part of the world, for two reasons. The first is that we have a food emergency there right now. As we meet in this House this evening, there are literally hundreds of thousands of people who are worried about whether their families will be able to have one meal a day. However, the Sahel is also a part of the world that has the potential to be the next breeding ground for terrorism and insecurity. The Secretary of State for International Development has often said that the area is primarily a responsibility for the French, and I do not totally disagree with him. However, we must also understand that, even if we are not going to provide a lot of aid, we should provide political leadership by saying that that part of the world is incredibly important for stability and security, as well as from a humanitarian point of view.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) raised the question of Tibet. I was privileged to be the first British Minister to be allowed to visit Tibet in 50 years, when I was a Foreign Office Minister. We should use every opportunity to say to the Chinese that we keep a close eye on human rights, freedom of expression and freedom of faith in Tibet, and that we have serious concerns about the human rights abuses that continue to occur.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) rightly talked about the importance of trying to prevent fragile states from falling into worse disrepair. It is important to stress, in a debate such as this, the need strategically to bring together defence, diplomacy and development.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) does a tremendous job in fulfilling her role as vice-chair of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. She rightly pointed out that although we should welcome the tremendous progress made in Burma in recent times—progress that none of us could have expected—we cannot afford to be complacent. There is still a long way to go, and we need to send that message at every opportunity.