Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Whitaker for her introduction to the debate, which was genuinely comprehensive and full of knowledge. I also thank all other noble Lords who have participated. It has been a good, knowledgeable, constructive and positive debate on the Government's policy towards poverty reduction in developing countries. It makes me very proud of what this country does and what the Government are doing.

I am particularly proud when I learn of local generosity. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, spoke about a concert held in Cardiff that raised £1 million in one evening, which makes a great statement. It is absolutely true that all judgments will and should be about outcomes, as my noble friends Lord Brennan and Lord Griffiths have said. I appreciate the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, about the complexity of all the issues being considered. I had not quite counted on the goat question, and I have no comment to make on it.

Perhaps I may just say that the idea that all the international work in which we are engaged is so over-shadowed by Iraq that we cannot give proper attention to it has been demonstrated to be nonsense by the quality of the debate today—an ungenerous summary, which I regret.

A unique opportunity is presented in 2005 to the United Kingdom and the broader international community. It is a year when, as presidents of both the G8 and the European Union, the UK can provide the lead on scaling up the response to global poverty and urging all international donor nations to meet the commitments already set out on aid, trade, debt and the broad-ranging millennium development goals.

This year has the potential to be a year in which tangible gains are made, and the year in which the wider international community clearly sets out its commitment to meet the millennium development goals by 2015. The Government will be at the heart of that drive.

The Prime Minister has established a clear set of international development priorities. For the G8, those will be Africa and climate change. He wants the leaders in Gleneagles to be prepared to agree a concrete set of measures for which G8 countries can be held to account. My noble friend Lady Kennedy said that this programme is capable of inspiring young people, and I agree. They are plainly people who understand the millstone of poverty and the great cause of fighting it.

Our main tasks during the EU presidency will be to take forward the inherited agenda and to represent the EU externally. Our priorities on the development side will again be Africa, the need for the international community to address poverty-related diseases and to press for EC aid to be targeted and focused on those who are most in need. We will also press for a new EU ODA/GNI target to raise the average proportion of gross national income going on aid from across Europe.
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1325

Three major reports issued in 2005 will contribute to shaping these shared agendas for the international development community. First, the United Nations Millennium Project report was published last week. It makes a powerful case that the millennium development goal can be achieved—even in sub-Saharan Africa—provided, as the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, said, bold action is taken to ensure that it is achieved.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked whether we intend to meet the objectives and, if we do not, which ones do we not intend to meet. We intend to meet the objectives and we will publish an assessment of them in a few weeks.

Secondly, the report in March of the Commission for Africa, following a wide-ranging consultation across Africa, will be available. The creation of the commission demonstrates the personal commitment of the Prime Minister to use the UK presidencies to make a real difference in Africa. I should also like to express my appreciation for the work done by my right honourable friends the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and the Secretary of State for International Development, Hilary Benn. However, I would emphasise that of the 17 commissioners more than half are prominent Africans. In that fact, I hope that we will all have confidence in the recommendations that will be made, shared, owned and acted on by partner governments across Africa.

Thirdly, September this year will see the United Nations Millennium Review Summit in New York, where the UN Secretary-General will present the first formal report on progress made towards the 2015 targets. These are good news stories, but, plainly, a huge amount remains to be done, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where on current trends it could take more than a century, as noble Lords have said, to reach some of the targets.

I share the view of my noble friends Lord Brennan and Lord Jordan that promises have been made at Monterey and Johannesburg, and promises must be met. The IFF is crucial in ensuring that we do. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, asked what discussion we are having with other countries, which is a very important question. These discussions are going on all the time. I hear routine reports on their progress from the Secretary of State for International Development.

The Prime Minister and the Government are determined to use this unique opportunity in 2005 to help Africa help itself. The challenges faced by sub-Saharan Africa are huge. However, the continent now has a real opportunity to turn itself around by its own will and its own efforts. There will be clear actions which we and other members of the international community will need to take forward in partnership with African governments. As donors, we must show African governments that our aid is dependable and that our policies are coherent.

To demonstrate this commitment, the UK is focusing particularly on improving opportunities for fairer trade, pressing for further debt relief, working to prevent conflict and its consequences, and tackling HIV/AIDS and other diseases which threaten the capacity of states
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1326
to build for the future. In addition, we need to increase the volume and predictability of aid flows, and harmonise our approaches to development with those of African states and other donors.

The debate has focused a good deal on trade. It is a huge issue and one on which I can assure noble Lords all Ministers work closely with one another. Africa attracts less than 1 per cent of all world trade, down from 5 per cent in 1948. Successful development relies on sound economic growth. Oxfam has estimated that an increase of just 1 per cent in Africa's share of world exports could be worth five times as much as the continent's share of aid and debt relief added together. The failure of the World Trade Organisation negotiations in Cancun was a disappointment and it is vital that at the talks in December we reach some form of commitment on scrapping subsidies, removing trade barriers, reforming the EU common agricultural policy, and building up developing country capacity to gain access to global markets. All those points were made persuasively by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, in a powerful statement.

We believe that an ambitious outcome to the current WTO talks could produce annual global benefits of between 250 and 600 billion dollars, and reduce the number of people living on less than two dollars a day by 144 million. That could finally set developing nations on the path towards being able to earn and trade their own way out of poverty.

A number of noble Lords asked whether we would pursue this. I can say to my noble friend Lady Whitaker that her point about food security and the springboard for growth coming from trade are fundamental to what we plan to do. Equally, the noble Lords, Lord Eden and Lord Selsdon, and my noble friend Lord Desai all raised similar points. Further, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Eden, and my noble friend Lady Jay on the work of their children in these areas. I always like to hear about industrious families involved in this kind of work.

My noble friend Lord Desai pointed out that the flow of private capital is crucial for the economies of developing countries. Debt burden must also be tackled. The UK is currently taking the lead on further debt relief, and we are determined to push this agenda with our G8 and EU partners. The heavily indebted poor country initiative has to date delivered around 70 billion dollars in debt relief for 27 of the world's poorest nations, 23 of which are in Africa. Their debt burden has been reduced by an average of around two-thirds. A further 10 eligible countries may also benefit over the next two years, which could lead to an additional 30 billion dollars' worth of debt relief.

The United Kingdom has already cancelled 100 per cent of its bilateral debt with these countries, and is now undertaking to meet 10 per cent of their debt-servicing payments to the multilateral institutions. That is a signal achievement for the United Kingdom. My noble friend Lord Desai also made a point about debt forgiveness combined with trade. I should like to add to what he said by noting that it is not only the relationship between trade and debt, but also the need
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1327
to make sure that we do not apply the conditions to trade and debt which led to some of the mistakes that have been made in the past.

AIDS affects nearly 27 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is the leading cause of death and the greatest threat to eradicating poverty and achieving the millennium development goals. The impact is particularly destructive of the opportunities and potential of the next generation. As my noble friend Lady Kennedy said, it is correct that women bear the greatest burden of this problem. In Malawi, more teachers are dying of AIDS each year than can be trained to fill their places. Even when there are sufficient teachers, children frequently drop out of class to care for sick parents or, when they are orphaned, stop going to school altogether.

The UK Government strategy for accelerated action on HIV/AIDS promises increased global resources of £1.5 billion over the next three years, which signals a real effort to improve and co-ordinate the international response to the epidemic; stronger political leadership; support for better programmes beyond the health sector; and specific action to support orphans and neglected children. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, asked specifically about that. It is a fixed part of the programme. Moreover, the NGOs play an absolutely central role in this by ensuring that money gets to the right people in the most effective way.

Preventing both the incidence and impact of conflict is critical since security and good development go hand in hand. African governments have the primary responsibility to avoid conflict and ensure the security of their citizens. But where the state fails to deliver, as we have seen in Darfur and in northern Uganda, as my noble friend Lord Jordan made clear, the international community has a straightforward moral obligation to protect people from harm. My noble friend Lord Parekh made a very similar observation.

My noble friend Lord Griffiths of Burry Port made a most moving point about Haiti, illustrating the key importance of security and the plain obligation of those sent to fulfil a UN mandate to do so, as well as providing the real and practical help that finally makes all the difference. As the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, said, democracy has no substitute. Perhaps I may add, in response to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, that in Iraq, which has also been the location of huge conflict, DfID has put some £333 million into specific aid projects over the recent period.

There is a clear need to focus on the setting of ambitious targets, and this also applies to the volume of aid and how it is delivered. Total UK official development assistance will rise to almost £6.5 billion, or 0.47 per cent of our gross national income, by 2007–08, representing a real terms increase of 140 per cent since 1997. Our aid to sub-Saharan Africa has more than doubled to nearly £720 million over the past seven years and will reach £1.25 billion in 2007–08.

We have announced our intention and a timetable to reach the UN target of 0.7 per cent. We intend to reach it. The Chancellor's proposed international finance
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1328
facility, if successful, would lead to the immediate doubling of aid from rich nations, which is judged necessary if the millennium development goals are to be met. I welcome the approval of my noble friend Lady Jay for the programme. She went on to say that aid levels are vital, along with proper safeguards for governance and the use of anti-corruption measures. Those points were also made by other noble Lords, underlying their absolute importance.

I have focused on Africa, but I shall leave the continent for a moment. The year could not have started with a more sombre event. Just before the end of last year an earthquake in the Indian Ocean produced a huge tsunami. The subsequent tragedy has reminded us all of the horrifying power of natural events and their impact on all those caught in their wake. It has also underlined the particular vulnerability of the world's poorest people living in the world's poorest countries. However, the international and public response has been overwhelming.

The UK's current priority is to fund immediate emergency relief operations and it has already allocated £75 million to the humanitarian response. Let me stress, in response to the question put to me by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell, that none of this funding has been reallocated from existing development programmes. It is freestanding aid. Recovery from the tsunami will take many years, and as well as helping to fund the emergency stage, we must recognise that we will be contributing for a long time to come. The trade component is vital to recovery and we are sensitive to that point.

Many lessons need to be learnt from this tragedy, including the whole issue of seeking to predict such events. My noble friend Lord Hunt of Chesterton asked several questions on these issues, and I shall write to him in detail about the Kobe discussions. However, donor countries and the nations affected have agreed with the UN that they should begin work now on an early warning system in the Indian Ocean to prevent such widespread disruption and loss of life in the future. Given its great technical capacity, Japan will be playing a significant role. Climate change is also a vital part of the entire programme.

Many questions have been raised in the debate and I shall endeavour to deal with a few of them but answer in writing those that I miss. I fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Eden, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, about the innovations made in the Indian banking system. No doubt, there are lessons to be learnt.

On the points made by my noble friend Lady Jay, the United Kingdom anti-bribery and corruption procedures are and will remain among the toughest in the world. The Export Credit Guarantee Department revised its anti-bribery and corruption procedures in December 2004 and agreement was reached on 13 January stressing its commitment to supporting UK exporters, while ensuring that robust measures are applied in all cases.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked about India's prospects in arriving at its millennium development goals. I will write to him on those because an extensive
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1329
answer could be given. The issue of caste is fundamental. It is an essential element in persistent poverty and 200 million people are adversely affected. DfID has several programmes specifically targeted on that question. If it is helpful, I will write in detail about them rather than give them short shrift. I am afraid to say to my noble friend Lord Parekh that I do not believe that the Tobin tax is likely to be one of the answers. There are too many technical and feasibility problems in achieving it.

Many points have been made about the role of women. The United Kingdom is investing £1.4 billion in education in the developing world. I say immediately that it is intended that that should be spent equally between men and women, which by definition will make a considerable difference to the amount being spent on women. We want to ensure that girls have exactly the same opportunities as boys; that they enjoy equal education opportunities; that they are protected from conflicts and violence; that they have access to health provision, water and sanitation; that they are protected from social exclusion; and that they are given every opportunity to avoid the perils of HIV and AIDS.

The millennium development goals in respect of girls are fundamental to our work. In response to my noble friend Lady Massey, there are examples from Yemen, Nepal and 25 other countries in a list provided to me. Specific programmes have been provided there in order to deal with the problems experienced by girls. I will write to my noble friend on that matter.

My noble friend Lord Brett—I am sorry, he is on the Cross Benches now but I hope he will not mind my addressing him as a noble friend, a former trade union general secretary—made the point about the role of trade unions as specialised organisations and their civil society role. I wholly agree with him. DfID provides just under £0.5 million to United Kingdom trade union organisations through the TUC and the DfID civil society challenge fund also is a leading fund in trying to ensure that resources and programmes are being made available for trade unions.

I want to respond in due course to some of the points on fragile states. However, I say now to my noble friend Lady Royall that she has the assurance she sought. The role of women and the greater part they play as role models in avoidance and conflict resolution is part of DfID's programme and part of its expenditure.

I said that I would write to other noble Lords but I want to add one point now in relation to the international finance facility for immunisation raised by my noble friend Lord Rea. Today the United Kingdom can announce that it proposes to pledge to the international finance facility for immunisation 1.8 billion United States dollars over 15 years. Through front-loading, that will allow 1.4 billion dollars to be spent over 10 years to deal with some of the diseases to which he rightly drew our attention.

That brings me to the concluding comment. We are clear that we are not working alone on our agenda and my noble friend Lady Whitaker said that it is in our hands. The Make Poverty History alliance of charities,
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1330
trade unions, campaigning groups and celebrities has come together to demand that rich countries increase aid; that they make it work better for poor people; that we cancel world debt; and that we change the rules of world trade so that they favour the interests of the poor. It is a great commitment and a great contribution.

I give this undertaking. My noble friend Lady Amos, who is in Davos today with the Prime Minister, will study the text of our debate. We will look at proposals, including the notion of the international development trust which was raised, and we will look at all other proposals which might add to the armoury we can deploy in this great fight. That is the best way to respond to a debate of this importance. I hope that noble Lords will feel that not only this debate but the work we intend to carry forward on that kind of basis will be rewarding in the most profound way.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page