Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Watson.]

1:06 pm
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Hilary Benn (Secretary of State, Department for International Development; Leeds Central, Labour)

I am sure that the whole House will welcome the opportunity in the week before the G8 summit to discuss the great moral and practical challenge that our generation faces: eradicating poverty in Africa. I cannot not recall a time when poverty in Africa, its causes and what we can do about it were the subject of so much debate and public attention. The Make Poverty History campaign and its many supporters, and many hon. Members on both sides of the House, including members of the International Development Committee, the all-party group on Africa and the other all-party groups, deserve our heartfelt thanks for achieving that.

There is growing recognition that it is both our moral duty to help to change the condition of humankind, and in our self-interest to do so in an interdependent world. Many people will be in Edinburgh or at one of the Live 8 concerts this weekend because they want the G8 to act and believe that it is possible to do something. That is a message of hope, and it is certainly the best defence against cynicism, because if cynicism were ever to take hold in the fight against global poverty, we would be lost. It should also encourage us in our task. I wish to speak today about what needs to be done.

The facts about poverty in Africa are a reproach to every single one of us. Some 315 million people in sub-Saharan Africa—nearly half the population—live on less than a dollar a day. Some 40 million of its children are not today where they should be—in school. Some 250 million Africans do not have safe water to drink or proper sanitation and 6 million men, women and children died last year of entirely treatable diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. We can no longer claim that we do not know that that is happening. We understand what needs to be done, and there has never been a better time to act, because Africa itself is making progress and changing.

The establishment of the African Union, with its principle of non-indifference, has seen interventions in Darfur, Togo and the Central African Republic which frankly would have been unthinkable only a decade ago. There are fewer conflicts. Since 1999, peace agreements have brought to an end 10 of Africa's major wars. More leaders are being democratically elected. Governance is improving. Thanks to the New Partnership for Africa's Development, since 2003 23 African countries have agreed to have their economic, political, social and corporate governance critically reviewed through the Africa peer review mechanism. Last week, the first assessments on Ghana and Rwanda were discussed by African Heads of State. The leaders of those two countries will respond to the recommendations in the summer. I will place copies of the reports in the Library of the House as soon as they are available. We should commend Presidents Kufuor and Kagame for their openness and readiness to acknowledge the need for change.

We are also seeing action to combat corruption, most recently in Zambia and South Africa, and in Nigeria, where President Obasanjo is making a significant break with the past. More than $700 million of corrupt assets have been seized. Three Ministers and three judges have been sacked. One judge has been suspended. The Senate President has been forced to resign, and the inspector general of police has been arrested.

I am sure that the House will welcome the steps that are taking place in Nigeria—a country that suffered so grievously over the past generation, from corruption, bad governance and military dictatorship. I am also sure that the House will welcome the news of an agreement to deal with Nigeria's debt which was reached by the Paris Club yesterday. That is proof that reform brings benefits. Now is the time for all of us to support the reformers in Africa.

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Andrew Robathan (Shadow Minister, Defence; Blaby, Conservative)

The right hon. Gentleman knows that I have a high respect for him, and we have discussed the issues once or twice before. When he says that there is moral challenge to us all, I agree with him. When he says that poverty reproaches each one of us, I agree with him. However, surely more than anyone it reproaches the other rulers who are not making progress—those in Zimbawe, who are not criticised by Mbeki in South Africa, and those across the continent of Africa, where next to no progress is being made, including, I regret to say, Ethiopia, whose Prime Minister was a member of the Commission for Africa.

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Hilary Benn (Secretary of State, Department for International Development; Leeds Central, Labour)

I accept the hon. Gentleman's point and I shall come to those two countries directly because if we are going to do the right things to help, we have to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the condition of Africa.

We are also seeing economic progress. Average GDP growth in 2004 was the highest in eight years. Mozambique has cut poverty by a third in the past 15 years and has doubled the number of children in school. Uganda has cut poverty by half and reduced the incidence of HIV by two thirds. We all know, however, that progress is not seen everywhere across Africa. On current trends, the millennium development goals will not be reached for another 100, or in some cases 150, years. The people who need the progress that the goals represent will be dead by then. They cannot wait that long.

Africa suffers from a lack of capacity. Many countries simply do not have enough money to pay the salaries of doctors, nurses and teachers, or to buy the drugs that are needed to fight the AIDS pandemic that is killing so many people—2.5 million Africans died last year of AIDS—and threatens economic development. It is not just a human tragedy, but potentially an economic catastrophe.

Ethiopia, which has achieved great success in reducing poverty and getting more children into school, is involved in a terrible struggle, with loss of life and arrests as a result of its election process. The fact that there is no result to the Ethiopian elections should concern us all. Governments in Sudan and Zimbabwe have shown a shameful contempt for human rights, in one case killing their own citizens and in the other bulldozing families out of their homes. I applaud what the African Union has done in Sudan, and I very much regret its silence on Zimbabwe. I hope that that will change.

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David Drew (Stroud, Labour)

I thank my right hon. Friend on behalf of the associate parliamentary group for Sudan for addressing us so shortly after his return from Sudan. It is pleasing to see at one level what is beginning to happen via the AU in Darfur. However, the right hon. Gentleman will know that another tragedy is opening up in the east of the country, around Port Sudan. There has been rebel activity and, as before, the Government are overreacting. Will he talk to the Foreign Secretary to determine whether preventive action is needed now, so that we stop the tragedy of the north-south divide occurring again and ensure that there is not another scar on the face of Africa?

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Hilary Benn (Secretary of State, Department for International Development; Leeds Central, Labour)

I will do that. My hon. Friend takes a close interest in Sudan. The conflict in the east and in Darfur demonstrates that although there is the north-south civil war, which has cost so many lives, in other parts of Sudan people want political participation and the chance to develop. The importance of the comprehensive peace agreement that was negotiated is that it provides the framework on wealth sharing and sharing political power, which offers the hope of finding a solution to the conflicts elsewhere in the country. In the end, it is up to the politicians to stop fighting, to start talking and to find that solution.

Although we rightly deplore what is happening in those countries where progress is not being made, they do not represent the whole of Africa. We cannot allow the actions of some Governments to jeopardise the future of the entire continent when African Governments elsewhere are increasingly demonstrating their commitment to change and when we can see the difference that aid makes.

The United Kingdom is helping to lead the debate on how aid can best be allocated. In the right circumstances, we should give our aid in a way that allows African Governments to decide how best to use it in line with their priorities to get children into school, to improve health care and to tackle poverty. In many countries, that means budget support. Where that is not possible, however, our aid will support sectoral programmes in health and education. We are also trying to improve predictability of aid—for example, by the 10-year agreements that we have reached with Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. In every case, we assess the risk and put in appropriate safeguards against corruption. We are also working with countries to strengthen and improve their public financial management, because we have to be sure that we can demonstrate that the money reaches the poor.

We know that aid works. In Ghana, 15 years of aid to education has resulted in a 10 per cent. increase in enrolment and an increase from one third to four fifths in the number of primary school graduates who have acquired literacy skills.

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Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire, Conservative)

The right hon. Gentleman talks of aid and includes Zambia as one of the countries that is making progress. The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2010 the average age of a Zambian will be 24. Twenty years ago the average age was 60. How can that be progress?

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Hilary Benn (Secretary of State, Department for International Development; Leeds Central, Labour)

The reference to Zambia related to tackling corruption. It has an enormous AIDS problem. One reason why we need more aid, and debt cancellation, for countries like Zambia is so that they have the resources they need to buy the drugs and employ the doctors and the nurses to prevent the catastrophe that the hon. Lady rightly mentions. That is why we need to do more.

In Tanzania, budget support has increased the number of children in primary school from just over 4 million to 7 million in recent years. Nine out of 10 children now go to school. Uganda has used budget support to abolish health-user fees for primary health care. It has recruited an extra 3,000 trained health workers. Immunisation rates for children under five have risen from 40 to 80 per cent.

Aid works. That is why the Commission for Africa called for a doubling of aid from $25 billion to $50 billion by 2010. We know that without it Africa will not meet the millennium development goals. The commission was clear on that. We need that aid to improve infrastructure, to invest in people, education and health, to tackle AIDS and to create conditions for private sector investment. Above all, we need a big push now. The most powerful message for our debate today is that all of Africa's development challenges are linked, and that success will come about only if they are all addressed together.

The UK's contribution has involved leadership, and the Prime Minister's decision to set up the Africa Commission and to make Africa the heart of our G8 presidency. However, we are also giving practical help with a rising aid budget, and we have now set a timetable for achieving the 0.7 per cent. target by 2013. Europe's contribution will be particularly significant. The agreement that EU development Ministers reached just over a month ago will double Europe's development assistance between now and 2010, and will on its own deliver two thirds of the $25 billion a year additional aid to Africa that the Commission for Africa recommends. Canada has announced that it will double its aid to Africa by 2008, and Japan will do so by 2007. President Bush will make an announcement today about further contributions from the United States.

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Laurence Robertson (Shadow Minister, Northern Ireland; Tewkesbury, Conservative)

Will the Secretary of State do his utmost to ensure that the aid from the European Union starts to return to the poorest countries? He will be well aware that the EU's record of delivering aid to those countries is regrettable. It has never been good, but it has got worse in recent years.

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Hilary Benn (Secretary of State, Department for International Development; Leeds Central, Labour)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The EU aid deal to which I referred represents the commitments of the 15 member states through their bilateral programmes. In addition, there is the European Community's development programme, and we and others are fighting to see more of that going to the world's poorest countries. I believe that there is support across the whole House for that.

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Andrew George (Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, International Development; St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

The Secretary of State will have seen in The Times this morning that the International Monetary Fund has produced two reports that question the premise that aid makes a significant contribution to economic growth. What response will he and his Department make to the IMF in that regard?

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Hilary Benn (Secretary of State, Department for International Development; Leeds Central, Labour)

The case for aid is not so much the difference it makes to economic growth but the difference it makes to saving people's lives and to getting children into school. Aid on its own will not deliver the economic growth that Africa requires if the continent is to be transformed. However, we should not let the IMF report dampen our commitment to increasing aid, because we can all see the benefit of so doing.

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David Borrow (South Ribble, Labour)

Over the next few weeks, a lot of promises will be made about aid for Africa, and we need to ensure that those promises are kept. We must ensure that the aid that is promised by countries across the world materialises in the years to come. There are too many of examples of that not happening; bold promises have been made, and poor people have lost out because they have not been kept.

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Hilary Benn (Secretary of State, Department for International Development; Leeds Central, Labour)

I could not agree more. The best people to hold to account the Governments who make those commitments are the Parliaments and the electorates of those countries, and the more loudly people express their concern about development and their anger about poverty, the better chance we have of ensuring that those commitments are turned into cash and practical help.

The other big step forward that we have seen is the agreement on debt cancellation, negotiated with such skill by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It potentially involves $55 billion-worth of debt cancellation, so that developing countries—many of which are in Africa—will no longer be faced with the terrible choice between making monthly repayments that they cannot afford and using the money to buy AIDS drugs and to employ the doctors, nurses and teachers who will make a difference to so many people's lives.

Aid and debt relief will help, but, as Andrew George said, Africa will not meet the millennium development goals without faster economic growth. We want to see African economies and their share of world trade double in the next few years, which means increasing their opportunities to participate in the global trading system, investing in infrastructure and reducing the cost of transport. One of the most striking statistics among the many in the Commission for Africa's report illustrates that, while it costs $1,500 to transport a car from Japan to Abidjan in west Africa, it costs $5,000 to move it on from Abidjan to Addis Ababa. The high cost of transport in Africa is one of the factors that gets in the way of economic growth and development.

Everyone in the Chamber knows that our greatest opportunity to enable Africa to break free from the chains of poverty will be at the World Trade Organisation talks in Hong Kong in December. Unless we do everything that needs to be done to allow Africa to trade on fairer terms with the rest of the world, we will deny it the best hope that it has of changing the lives of its people for the better.

My final point is about partnership, because, in the end, there has to be a commitment on both sides. I have spoken about the contribution that the richer world can make, but Africa, too, has a responsibility to provide peace, stability and good governance. One reason why we should have hope is precisely that in recent years Africa has demonstrated through NEPAD and the African Union its determination to live up to that responsibility.

A fortnight ago, I was in Rumbek, in southern Sudan, where one in four children die before they reach five years of age and three quarters of all adults cannot read. I do not think I have ever been to a place that has so little. It has been impoverished, brutalised and traumatised by Africa's longest-running civil war, which has claimed 2.5 million lives. I met a group of villagers who had walked from Khartoum to Rumbek, which had taken more than two months. I particularly remember talking to a young woman by the name of Josefina, who was 19, and her brother Stephen, who was 11. Their mother had abandoned them and they had walked to Rumbek with their fellow villagers. I asked Josefina whether Stephen went to school, and she said he did not. When I asked why, she told me that the only school in Rumbek charged fees, and she had no money to pay them. Only with the peace deal will Rumbek and southern Sudan have the chance of a better future. As part of our obligation, we are providing more than £100 million to Sudan this year, in addition to the support that we are giving to the peace mission in Darfur.

Only through peace and stability will southern Sudan have the chance of a better future. The situation there teaches us that, even with the doubling of aid, the cancellation of debt and the opportunity of fairer trade, if people continue to fight one another, there will be no development or progress. Sudan and other countries remind us of that challenge. That is why we are right to provide support to build African capacity and to undertake more peace support operations across the continent. That is also why we are right to put money into education, so that people like Stephen in southern Sudan can have the chance to go to school. That is why we are right to put in money to meet the financing gap in regard to the fight against HIV and AIDS, and why Britain will be hosting the replenishment conference for the global fund in September.

In the end, this is all about one thing. It is about building capacity, without which Africa will not be able to tap its potential. Its countries need good governance, an independent judiciary, a lively civil society, and civil servants with skills. They need to fight corruption and to create a climate in which people from Africa and beyond will want to invest their money. In the end, capacity is about Governments who are able to deliver, and about people who have an expectation that their Government might be able to do something to improve their lives. I learned that lesson more forcefully than anywhere else on my first visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, when President Kabila told me that the challenge that his country faced was not to restore people's faith in the Government but to persuade them, for the very first time in their lives, that there might be something called a Government who had something to offer them. Above all, the future of Africa rightly lies in the hands of its people and their Governments.

There are many hon. Members in the Chamber today, and I look forward to hearing what they have to say. They will know that Africa is as full of potential, creativity, talent and hope as any other continent on the planet, and those qualities are waiting for the opportunity to be set free. We need to see Africa in all its complexity. If people continue to look at it as a continent only of war, pestilence, famine, disease and starvation, we will not see the real Africa underneath that is struggling to come up. In the end, it is the power of the political process in African countries and in the world that offers us the best hope of a better future. What is remarkable about the people who will gather in Scotland this weekend is that they look to the G8 and the political process to change things for the better.

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Pete Wishart (Chief Whip; Perth and North Perthshire, Scottish National Party)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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Hilary Benn (Secretary of State, Department for International Development; Leeds Central, Labour)

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall conclude. Many Members want to speak, and I want to allow as much time as possible for them to do so.

People have demonstrated at some G8 summits because they do not want the G8 and do not like what it stands for—they want it to get out of town. We should draw enormous comfort from the fact that that is not the case this time. People hope that politics will demonstrate its capacity to change things for the better. It is, after all, how we as a country transformed ourselves over the past 400 or 500 years. Life expectancy used to be short, few people went to school, we did not have a health service and there was crushing, grinding poverty. If our forebears and ancestors came back, they would be astonished by the society that we have built for ourselves through a process of political, social and economic development. The people of Africa want exactly the same opportunity for themselves and their families so that they can build a better future and pass it on to the next generation. Our obligation is to do all that we have in our power to help them to bring about that better future.

1:31 pm
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Andrew Mitchell (Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, International Development; Sutton Coldfield, Conservative)

A number of factors converge to focus the eyes of the world on Gleneagles next week. Britain holds the presidencies of the G8 and the European Union, we will have a strong voice at the World Trade Organisation talks in December and it is the 20th anniversary of Live Aid. Thanks to a well organised and positive campaign, the public's desire to make poverty history has become an almost tangible force in the run-up to next week's summit. That presents the leaders of the eight most powerful nations with a great opportunity but also with a great challenge.

Next week in Edinburgh, it is not only the heads of African Government who will be held to account but the leaders of the richest, most powerful countries in the west, as the public are keen to see their spirit of compassion and good will reflected in the actions of their leaders. They are watching to see that in this year of opportunity politicians live up to the task, so that generosity is matched by the determination to ensure that every penny released for development is spent properly. Good intentions must be translated into effective results on the ground. Next week, the G8 leaders must channel the tremendous good will over the past few months into effective action for the world's poor. If they do not do so, they will fail the 30,000 African children who die unnecessarily every day, and they will fail the people of their own nations who demand real and effective action.

Accountability is the key, and that is what the Opposition will push for. The Conservative party fully welcomes the current political landscape of consensus on development issues. As the Secretary of State knows, we stand foursquare behind him on the Government's push for a comprehensive deal on aid, trade and debt. I am delighted by the emergence of a united British agenda on international development. I pay tribute to my predecessors, including my hon. Friend John Bercow, who is in the Chamber today, as they have worked hard to secure that unity of purpose. I am proud to have been appointed to my current post at a time of such opportunity. This is not a party political issue, and we will not seek to oppose for opposition's sake. However, the debate must be more than merely an exchange of pleasantries.

While we commend the spirit of the Government's approach, the Opposition think that there are things missing from it. There is a serious danger that the Government will focus too much on headline figures and inputs, and not enough on ensuring that those inputs translate into concrete improvements in the lives of the poor. That would offer no solution to the people of Africa, and no satisfaction to the people of the G8 nations. On behalf of both those groups, we will hold the Government and their G8 counterparts to account.

Africa is the world's biggest continent. It consists of 51 countries with hugely diverse cultures and histories, where more than 1,000 languages are spoken. As the Secretary of State has just said, we should be wary of excessive generalisation when talking about Africa, but the countries of sub-Saharan Africa are, broadly speaking, united in poverty, which is acute, prolonged and worsening. Africa is the only continent in the world to have grown poorer in the last generation. People around the world, particularly in India and China, are creating wealth and gradually escaping from poverty. Africa's share of world trade, however, has halved. Poverty is increasing and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham has said, life expectancy is falling.

Today, like yesterday and tomorrow, 8,000 people in Africa will die from HIV/AIDS, 7,000 people will die of hunger, and 6,000 will die from water-borne diseases—90 per cent. of malaria cases are in sub-Saharan Africa. At least 25 million people are HIV-positive, and 12 million children have lost one or both of their parents to AIDS—12 million is more than the number of children in Britain. A total of 100 million children are missing out on school. Their school fees—I learned in Uganda that they are often less than £5 a term—are too expensive for their parents to meet. Denied an education, they are condemned at birth to a life of failure, their intellectual growth stunted just as the growth of their nation is stunted by poverty, and their talent is wasted forever.

Africa's children are like our children—they laugh the same, play the same, and suffer the same. In South Africa, people spend more on burying their dead than they do on food and clothing for their families. In the global village, we cannot ignore such suffering. In the face of that situation, it is truly appropriate that the question that will dominate the G8 meeting next week is what politicians in rich countries should do to reduce poverty and promote development in poor countries. For the millions of AIDS orphans and for all those children not in school there is no more important question. There are, however, no easy answers. Africa needs much more than good intentions. It needs co-ordinated, focused and effective assistance from the developed world and good policy from its national governments—a partnership, as the Secretary of State said.

I deliberately stress the need for good policy from African Governments. Bad Governments pursuing bad policies are the major reason why Africa is poorer today than it was 50 years ago. If the G8 countries are serious about helping Africa, they must face that unpleasant fact, and use their diplomatic and financial influence to create incentives for African governments to govern well. They must be unflinching in their condemnation of those Governments who perpetuate poverty and wage war on their own people. The title of our debate is "Helping Africa to fight poverty", and ultimately it is the responsibility of African governments and the African people to fight poverty.

Our actions should be enabling. They may help to create the necessary conditions for progress in Africa, but they are not sufficient in themselves. Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General has said that

"the struggle for development has to be carried on mainly in developing countries and by their people."

We must not use bad governance as an excuse to turn our back on those 12 million AIDS orphans. There is much that the G8 leaders can, and must, do to assist those African governments who are genuinely committed to helping their people escape poverty.

First, we want to see a big increase in the quality and volume of aid. I welcome the consensus in British politics on the UN's 0.7 per cent target. As well as increasing the amount of aid that we deliver, we must secure international agreement to achieve a dramatic improvement in the quality of aid. We should be candid about the record of aid in the past. Some aid has been spectacularly successful. It supported the eradication of smallpox, for example, saving millions of children from a painful death. In Kampala 10 days ago, I saw how British aid is helping to support 140,000 families affected by HIV/AIDS. I met people who are alive today because of British generosity. I visited the Kitovu hospital run by the CAFOD-sponsored Medical Missionaries of Mercy. Everyone in that hospital was working together to save lives with limited resources. I pay tribute to the work of those amazing people at that hospital and to all those who volunteer. They show us what can be achieved.

I want all our aid to be that effective, yet much aid in the past has been wasted, ending up in Swiss bank accounts or the pockets of arms dealers. Too often, aid has been characterised as a transfer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries. No part of the planet has received more aid and done less with it than Africa. We will secure public support for increased aid only if we take decisive action to prevent that from happening again. The public are sceptical. A poll for The Daily Telegraph has shown that 83 per cent. of people are not confident that money given by the west would be spent wisely. It also shows that 79 per cent. of voters believe that corruption and incompetence are to blame for Africa's problems.

After the summer, when the G8 conference is packed away, our electorates, the people of the developed world, will look to their leaders to ensure that the vast amount of money raised is spent properly. We must outline clearly how the money is to be spent, and we must put in place clear, transparent structures to account for the money. The G8 leaders must be able to monitor precisely where our money goes. I hope the Secretary of State will look carefully at structural ways of ensuring greater transparency and accountability in the way aid moneys are spent. Our taxpayers will demand nothing less.

Our aid should help to support efforts to develop the institutional and legal preconditions for growth and sustainable poverty reduction. It should be used to reward and encourage countries which establish a framework of transparent institutions, which respect the rule of law and human and property rights, and which promote free trade between individuals and between nations. Where we work with Governments, we must expect them to be fully and openly accountable for the funds that they receive. There should be no more second chances for tyrants and no more benefit of the doubt for corrupt dictators.

In badly governed countries, we should distribute aid through the small platoons of motivated, dedicated NGOs which are already doing such good work in the developing world. Such money should be disbursed through the Department for International Development, which is focused on output, rather than through the inefficient European Union.

We face huge challenges and we have only limited resources, so it is vital that we spend our aid where it will do the most good. That means supporting specific, effective, accountable investments in vaccine research and the provision of basis health and education services. We should draw up a priority list and stick to it. The Copenhagen consensus priorities of tackling HIV/AIDS, malnutrition and malaria are a good place to start.

We need to conduct a rigorous investigation into the merits of direct budget support, as opposed to project aid. Clearly, both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, but the British people will rightly be sceptical about giving their hard-earned money to Governments who are not fully accountable and transparent.

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David Drew (Stroud, Labour)

Will the hon. Gentleman include TB in his list? TB, unfortunately, is the great killer in Africa that is often overlooked. Together with my hon. Friend Michael Connarty, I had a meeting last week with Dr. Felix Salaniponi, who is the director of the national TB control programme in Malawi. He made it clear to us that TB can be eradicated but it must not be left out of the equation with malaria and HIV/AIDS. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?

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Andrew Mitchell (Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, International Development; Sutton Coldfield, Conservative)

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. TB is of course coterminous with AIDS, and he makes his own point correctly.

The Department for International Development has earmarked £45 million for direct budget support to Malawi in the period 2003–06, despite the fact that the Department acknowledges that the country has

"weak economic and financial management".

Can the Secretary of State assure us that the money will be well spent? In Uganda, 50 per cent. of the budget comes from aid. What impact does that have on the behaviour of the Ugandan Government? Does it undermine their accountability to the Ugandan people?

I turn to the proposed international finance facility. That is a very clever way of front-end loading aid funding, but many questions remain unanswered. How exactly will the extra money be spent? How will we avoid the risk of a dramatic reduction in aid levels after 2015? What guarantees can be given that our aid will indeed be more effective if spent sooner rather than later? If the limiting factor is absorptive capacity on the ground, there is a real risk that aid could be subject to significantly diminishing marginal returns.

The international finance facility for immunisation is a very good idea indeed. Vaccinating children against disease is surely one of the most effective ways to spend our money. Children's lives can be saved for just a few pennies. In the 20th century, we eradicated smallpox from the planet and we made great progress on polio. In the 21st century, why can we not eradicate malaria from the planet, or even HIV/AIDS? In the face of diseases that cause such suffering, we cannot set our sights too high. One of the major priorities for the extra resources released at the G8 should be preventive health care and the provision of safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. We must ensure that all the money raised by the main IFF is used as productively as that. Furthermore, the immoral and unethical poaching of doctors and health workers from the third world to work in our country—health workers who are desperately needed back in their own communities—should be ended immediately.

I come now to debt relief. The last Conservative Government led the world in providing debt relief for poor countries. We welcome the progress that has been made on bilateral debt relief and will urge other countries to follow Britain's lead. We welcome the recent deal on multilateral debt. Well managed debt relief has produced many success stories. Mozambique's debt relief has enabled its Government to immunise 500,000 children. Benin eliminated school fees in rural areas, allowing thousands of children to attend classes for the first time. That is what debt relief can and must achieve, but we need to ensure that all the money freed up in this way is spent on fighting disease and educating children. We must put in place robust measures to ensure that the money released by debt cancellation is used to fight poverty. We must match generosity with practicality, acting to ensure that the money released by debt relief is put to good use.

The most effective way of helping African countries to develop is to free up markets for their trade. Although trade policy is a matter to be decided formally at the EU and the World Trade Organisation, it is right that trade measures to help the developing world are very much on the political agenda at the G8. I reiterate our position. Protection for developed countries at the expense of the developing world is both immoral and hypocritical. It must come to an end. For every pound that rich countries give to poor countries in aid, those countries lose £2 through our protectionist trade barriers. Over the past four years, £20 billion has been spent by the EU on agricultural export subsidies to Africa. That is a waste of European taxpayers' money and a direct cause of African impoverishment.

I am horrified by the French attitude to the reform of the CAP.

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Laurence Robertson (Shadow Minister, Northern Ireland; Tewkesbury, Conservative)

My hon. Friend will be aware that 20 years ago, when Live Aid started, half the entire EU budget was spent on storing and disposing of surpluses, at a time when people in the world were starving. Is it not a tragedy that 20 years on, we do not seem to have moved very far?

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Andrew Mitchell (Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, International Development; Sutton Coldfield, Conservative)

My hon. Friend lays before the House a most important point.

The common agricultural policy hurts British taxpayers and consumers and is detrimental to the interests of poor countries. It encourages overproduction, distorts prices, imposes high tariffs on imports and subsidises exports. The Government must not let French intransigence prevent them from pushing for reforms of the CAP which will benefit the poor. We will press the EU to reduce agricultural tariffs and to end export subsidies. My right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin is saying a number of interesting things today about the reform of the CAP. I hope the Government will want to take up his sensible agenda.

The dumping of state-subsidised produce on poorer countries is an abuse of the market. America should be taken to task for its outrageous cotton subsidies, which impoverish the people of Africa. What steps are the Government taking to equip poor countries to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the multilateral trading system overseen by the WTO? Does the Secretary of State agree that a lack of the necessary expertise all too often prevents poor countries from taking full advantage of the system? What further consideration has he given to our proposal to create an advocacy fund to help poor countries fight their corner in international negotiations and to ensure that they are not outgunned in trade disputes? He will want to consider the important points made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition at yesterday's Prime Minister's questions.

The experience of Africa since independence has not been one of undifferentiated failure, and there are beacons of hope and cradles of development from which the rest of the continent can learn. For example, Botswana has had the fastest growth in income per person of any country in the world during the past 35 years. It is a stable, well governed country and a multi-party democracy, and the benefits of its considerable diamond wealth have been spread fairly widely. According to Transparency International, Botswana is the least corrupt country in Africa, and its Government have taken a firm stand against corruption. When I visited Botswana last year, I was impressed by the anti-corruption posters on every street corner. Of course, the problem for Botswana is that all this is threatened by an HIV-prevalence rate of 30 per cent.

Let us be honest—the people of Africa have suffered from some of the worst Governments in the world. It is polite to refer to that point as "the governance issue", but the euphemism betrays those Africans who encounter police as a uniformed protection racket, customs officers not as people who protect their children from drugs but as extortionists who have bought their posts and need to make them pay, or judges not as neutral administrators of justice but as servants of the rich and powerful. To people from Darfur whose villages have been razed or to Zimbabweans whose homes have been burned, the word "governance" is a shameful, almost wilful, dodging of the issue, and the G8 leaders should act on that matter next week.

This Government have not always lived up to their rhetoric about crimes against humanity in Africa. As President Mugabe's repression gets worse, they still do nothing—meanwhile, China supplies him with arms. In the debate following the statement on the Commission for Africa, the Secretary of State said that he felt the people of Africa would hold their leaders to account through the democratic process. I hope that he will at least concede that things are not going entirely as he had hoped. African Governments have remained resolutely silent over the policies of state terrorism exercised by President Mugabe in Zimbabwe, except, of course, for President Mkapa of Tanzania, who is a member of the Commission for Africa and who earlier this year in a BBC interview praised his "brother" for his brave anti-colonial stance.

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Kate Hoey (Vauxhall, Labour)

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned good governance in Africa and Zimbabwe. This morning, I visited some of the Zimbabwean hunger strikers in Harmsworth. What message does it send to the world about what this country thinks about Zimbabwe that we are prepared to allow 90 people to remain on hunger strike because we will not stop sending back people to that brutal dictator?

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Andrew Mitchell (Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, International Development; Sutton Coldfield, Conservative)

The hon. Lady is right, and I have made the point that more action should be taken.

I am not talking about white farmers, although their treatment has been appalling and unjust. I am talking about the estimated 250,000 black Zimbabwean citizens who have been brutally ejected from their homes, which have been destroyed, and left without shelter or sustenance because they were suspected of voting for the opposition in the last election. I am talking about the many millions more who are starving and dying in the country at large for belonging to the wrong tribe, for having the wrong political allegiance, or simply because they are the random victims of policies that have reduced a once-thriving country to penury. We were told that public criticism of Mugabe's regime by donor Governments would be counterproductive and that we should allow Mugabe's peers and neighbours to use quiet diplomacy and economic leverage to ameliorate his policies. From here, that quiet diplomacy looks far more like spineless consensual silence.

As for Ethiopia, which is run by another of the Prime Minister's friends, Meles Zenawi, the African Union, explaining its silence about the recent murder of more than 20 opposition supporters on the streets of Addis Ababa, said that it had more important issues to deal with.

Neither protestors, nor politicians, nor rock stars will be able single-handedly to make poverty history, which is a task that can be accomplished only by the efforts of African countries themselves. People, not Governments, create wealth, but there is much that our Government can do to make that task easier: we can champion and reward good government; we can give more aid and make sure that it is spent well; and we can allow people in poor countries to trade with people in rich countries without hindrance. However, the ultimate success or failure of the British presidency of the G8 will be judged not by inputs—the headline figures on aid or debt—but by outcomes. How many children will it save from an early death and how many poor countries will it enable to become more wealthy? We have a duty, both to people in developing countries and to the hard-working British taxpayer, to see that the money released for development in 2005 is well spent.

Good intentions and generous spending alone achieve nothing. If we are to make poverty history, we must match compassion with realism and generosity with practicality. Although we should recognise the crucial role of aid in reducing immediate human suffering, we should also remember that the only sure road out of poverty is wealth, spurred on by property rights and freedom under the rule of law. Reforming immoral, hypocritical and pernicious trade barriers and subsidies would do more to help sub-Saharan Africa than anything else.

We fully support the Prime Minister and the Government in their determination to act this year, but we will monitor them closely and hold them accountable for the hopes they have raised, both at home and in Africa. My signal to those marching to Edinburgh—many of us will be marching with them—is that we will not allow their expectations to be let down. Failure by the leaders of the G8 to seize this moment of opportunity would be a betrayal of their own citizens as much as of the poor, the sick and the destitute in Africa. The Government must not squander the emotional capital that they have earned, which is why we will support them in the noble aims and aspirations that they will champion at Gleneagles next week. I hope that they will draw strength from our determination and support and from the faith of those across the world who will be watching.

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Michael Lord (Deputy Speaker)

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind hon. Members that the 10-minute limit on speeches by Back Benchers applies from now on.

1:57 pm
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Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, Labour)

In opening the debate, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State welcomed the focus on these important issues—it is marvellous that people are writing and speaking about them, and on Saturday people will be marching about them, too.

On 7 June, I read a piece in The Guardian by Martin Kettle that made me feel angry. Having re-read the article, which was entitled, "The naive lead the naive in a campaign of liberal guilt", and having re-examined Martin Kettle's conclusion that

"Gleneagles . . . is about a generation's unfinished business",

I think that the article probably served a useful purpose by reflecting, along with the enthusiasm for making poverty history and for Saturday's march, the cynicism which undoubtedly exists in some quarters and which has even been reflected in today's short exchanges. As Mr. Mitchell has said, Africa has received more aid than any other continent, but has also repaid more debt and more debt interest than any other continent, and it has to deal with countries that pursue grotesque trade policies that clearly make impositions on the poorest people in Africa. We must address those matters in the modern world.

So what do we seek to do? We want to take on board what Make Poverty History is about and to address the issues of conflict. We are all deeply worried about Darfur, and we want to strengthen the international community and the United Nations in their response to that terrible and ongoing crisis. In our aid policies, we want to ensure that we deal with child care issues. In Africa, one woman in 14 is likely to die in childbirth as against one woman in 1,400 in Europe; that cannot be right. We want to address health care problems and people's need for food and medication. We want to tackle genuine development and to challenge the terrible scourge of HIV/AIDS, especially where we know that we have the opportunities to do it.

There is cynicism, and we might as well acknowledge that. It is perfectly fair to criticise what is going on in Zimbabwe, which is abominable, but it has to be set in the context of the problems of the whole of Africa. Some 12 million people live in Zimbabwe—1.6 per cent. of a total population of 817 million. The policies being pursued there are deplorable, but Zimbabwe is not Africa and Africa is not Zimbabwe. Transparency, on the part of donor nations and recipient nations, is absolutely essential. It is essential too in terms of partnership, because without that partnership we cannot achieve the millennium goals and objectives that most Members wish to achieve.

I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave a lead yesterday and today when he mentioned Kenya. He said that school fees had been abolished and that 1 million more children are at school, which is splendid, but he did not do it in a starry-eyed way. He pointed out that 40 million children in Africa are not where they should be—at their desks in the classroom. That, too, remains a challenge.

My hon. Friend Mr. McGrady spoke about Ethiopia. He mentioned some people in his constituency who went there to help to build a little school, but had not been there for long when they realised that it could not be done. They found children starving and dying and children who were blind, and saw that food and medication were not getting there. They went back to Ireland to review their priorities and to address the problems that they had encountered.

It is not unreasonable to respond to the demands for transparency that have again been made in this debate—indeed, I support them. It is not unreasonable to say that there should be accountability in relation to the extraction of the huge mineral resources in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere. The companies that exploit those resources should be open and democratic, and the Governments who obtain them should be open not only with their own people but with public opinion in this country. I welcome the fact that our Government are taking that issue seriously.

I want to turn briefly, if I may, to the Bill that I hope to introduce for its Second Reading on 20 January; obviously I cannot refer to it in detail today.

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Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, Labour)

That is despite the temptation of John Bercow.

I believe that the Bill is highly relevant to this debate. If we achieve, as the International Development Committee is urging upon the Government, something like the Swedish model, then we will indeed be making progress. Under the Bill, not only would we expect and demand in this Parliament a report on how Governments achieve the target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national income—some do not have a particularly good record on that—but would look for the kind of transparency that Members on both sides of the House have demanded today, as well as a compact with recipient countries. We cannot instruct them about how they spend their money in absolute detail, but it is fair that we as a Parliament and the British people know how it is being spent.

We are right to aim for poverty reduction and to see as a huge priority the upholding of human rights and obligations, as well as strong financial management and action on the compelling issue of corruption. Today, we look forward to the events of the weekend. We also look forward to some other important gatherings—the G8 itself, the World Trade Organisation meeting in Hong Kong, and the millennium summit in New York later this year. They will not solve all the problems in themselves, but they are extremely important in making a practical contribution towards challenging the poverty and deprivation and the lack of opportunity and aspirations that we see in the continent of Africa.

In that spirit, I welcome the debate, the Government's policies, and the support that public opinion is giving to the continent of Africa because people recognise that it is a continent seeking to make progress in a world that is experiencing great disenchantment.

2:07 pm
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Andrew George (Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, International Development; St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Clarke, and I entirely endorse his comments.

Although the 10-minute restriction on Back-Bench speeches does not apply to me, I will apply it to myself, for two reasons. First, I may not be able to remain in the Chamber until the end of the debate. I have explained why that is to the Secretary of State, to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the Conservatives, so I will not bore the House with it.

Secondly, I have never been to Africa myself. People might say that I am therefore not worthy to contribute to the debate, but I hope that they do not. One does not need to travel to a place in order to be able to express concern or to engage in a debate about it. A maxim that often trips off the tongue is that travel broadens the mind. Its most ardent advocates perhaps say it to salve their consciences about using disproportionate amounts of non-renewable resources as they travel the globe. Some people who travel all over the place come back with the same teeny-weeny little mind that they went off with in the first place. I do not argue that travel does not broaden the mind, but I would say that if one starts with a broad mind, there is a great deal to gain from travelling. I hope that I can prove that, as I will be putting the matter right with regard to Africa in the very near future.

As we could have anticipated, so far the debate has been consensual. I could sign my name to the speech by the Secretary of State and to most of the speech by Mr. Mitchell, who speaks for the Conservatives. I hope that they might be able to do the same to mine when I shortly reach the end of it; we shall see.

I congratulate the Government on their leadership through the Commission for Africa. They are raising expectations with regard to the G8 summit. Politically, that is a dangerous thing for any politician to do. They have done it, however, in a responsible way. The Chancellor's lead on debt relief is also welcome. We can therefore take pride, across parties, in the Government taking a lead in the world on those issues. Challenges still exist, however, which we want to probe and encourage the Government to address.

Mr. Drew, who takes a strong interest in such matters, mentioned the national TB control programme in Malawi, and I have also met Professor Salaniponi. The Department for International Development is providing welcome assistance and aid to that programme, supplementing the salaries of medical workers in Malawi, to ensure that they are not poached—at least we hope that they will not leave the country to work elsewhere, as they are essential to the success of that programme. The funding comes to an end, however, at the end of this calendar year. I know, however, that one of the challenges that the Department must face is the exit strategy.

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David Davies (Monmouth, Conservative)

Will the hon. Gentleman join me in acknowledging the enormous damage done to countries such as Malawi when large numbers of nurses leave? I believe that more are now working in Britain than in Malawi, and we must be careful to ensure that the third-world countries from which we recruit can afford to lose those people. There are many nurses from the Philippines in my constituency, for example, but that is not a problem because that country has a surplus of nurses. We should not recruit nurses or teachers from South Africa, however, when that shortage causes huge problems for the countries concerned.

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Andrew George (Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, International Development; St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

I endorse the hon. Gentleman's sentiments. The Minister will no doubt address such issues, and the question of what the Government are doing, in his response. Certainly, supplementing the salaries of medical workers in Malawi makes a contribution, and we need to do a great deal more. Sophisticated activity might be needed to enable such workers to remain in their home country, whether they be teachers, medical workers or others.

The timing of this debate is related to the G8 summit in Gleneagles next week and the Live 8 marches and concerts at the weekend. I will also be in Edinburgh this weekend, and look forward to meeting the Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield and other parliamentarians to ensure that the messages get across. When one of the primary issues of the G8 summit is the eradication of poverty, however, I am concerned that that debate is among the eight richest countries in the world. In effect, the poorest countries can wait to hear what benefits come from the top table after the event. When countries that are not present are being discussed, the same principle should apply that applies to the disability community—one should never discuss others without them being present. The G8 should also have what I have described as the P8—the poorest eight—present so that they can look them in the eye, negotiate with them and understand exactly the consequences of their decisions.

In one of the most impassioned contributions to the debate, the Secretary of State described those in the wealthy west as having a moral duty. He described his recent experience of visiting Sudan. I hope—I know that John Bercow, who has also spoken passionately on this issue, agrees—that the Government and the G8 will consider ways of building the capacity of the African Union and the United Nations as a means of recognising that conflict resolution might mean international intervention, from which we have held back too often in the past.

I asked the Secretary of State earlier about his response to the International Monetary Fund reports and the premise that aid results in economic growth. I have never believed or argued that aid programmes are necessarily intended to result in economic growth, and I was encouraged by his response that aid is about saving people's lives. We hope that trade and other mechanisms result more directly in the capacity for economic growth.

As further background, the Secretary of State mentioned, as reported on the front page of The Times, President's Bush's announcement that he intends to increase the US contribution to aid to Africa in three programme areas, on the condition that African Governments put their house in order. Of course we talk about governance, but it is wrong for us in the west to hector African Governments as we often end up doing. I hope that President Bush will put his house in order with regard to his trade rules.

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Jim Cunningham (Coventry South, Labour)

I have listened with great interest to the hon. Gentleman, but how does he think that we can get good government in Africa? I have not heard him explain that.

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Andrew George (Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, International Development; St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

That is a big question to answer within the time restriction that I have given myself. Perhaps I will be allowed injury time.

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Andrew Mitchell (Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, International Development; Sutton Coldfield, Conservative)

I strongly disagree with the hon. Gentleman's contention that we should not hector the Governments of Africa. Where we think that they are letting down the people whom they are there to govern and lead, we should express ourselves in the strongest possible way, which I tried to do in relation to the Government of Zimbabwe.

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Andrew George (Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, International Development; St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

Perhaps I did not express myself clearly enough. Of course we should express ourselves clearly when we disagree, but my point is that President Bush should also recognise that he should put his house in order with regard to trade rules. The US is dumping cotton on poor countries, which is having a detrimental impact and undermining the intention to improve poverty eradication in those countries.

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Pete Wishart (Chief Whip; Perth and North Perthshire, Scottish National Party)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a real distinction between good governance and corruption? Western Governments are imposing their political will on developing African nations, particularly on issues such as liberalisation of markets and insisting on privatisations.

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Andrew George (Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, International Development; St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

I understand that the hon. Gentleman intends to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and he will have an opportunity to expand on those points.

The message that I hope that we can send to those at the Live 8 concerts and protests this weekend is that it is not an opportunity for momentary compassion for the poorest in Africa, but that it can be sustained. I hope that the Government will also be encouraging and look for opportunities in which that compassion and concern, expressed by millions of people in this country, can be expressed in practical application. One of the first things that can be done by those who are joining hands around Edinburgh or attending the Hyde park concert is to ask, the next time that they go to their large local grocery store, whether it can provide reassurance that their purchases will not damage the ethical standards for which they have just been campaigning, and will not harm the poorest people in African countries whom they have just attended a concert to support.

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Charles Walker (Broxbourne, Conservative)

Will the hon. Gentleman educate the House as to who would actually answer that question if it were asked in my local Tesco or Sainsbury's?

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Andrew George (Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, International Development; St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

There are campaigning non-governmental organisations engaged in a dialogue with the larger supermarkets, and they are raising questions about ethical standards. We want to encourage supermarkets. We are talking about transparency in government, but we should also have transparency in the commercial sector in this country, so that we understand more about the source of our bananas, coffee and other products, so that what we buy does not undermine the benefits of the work being undertaken to eradicate poverty in less developed countries. I hope that the Government will use their good offices to ensure that greater transparency can be facilitated.

2:21 pm
Photo of Mark Durkan

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to address the House for the first time, in this important debate. I thank not just the Government for this timely debate, but the Secretary of State, not just for his contribution to the debate but for the immense efforts and determined initiative that the Government have shown on this issue—not just in the run-up to the G8 and the creation of the Commission for Africa, but dating right back to the creation of the Department for International Development and the policy reloading that that brought.

I stand here proud to uphold the values of the Social Democratic and Labour party—a party of consistency and persistence, as we have stood for non-violence, democracy and partnership as a better way to a better Ireland; and a party that is solidly social democratic, unashamedly Irish nationalist, but determinedly internationalist.

Of course I am conscious that I am more than an SDLP MP. I stand here democratically honoured to represent the interests of all the people of Foyle—whether they voted for me or for other parties' candidates, and whether they share my political beliefs or hold other views, different from mine but no less legitimate for that.

I also know my duty not just to speak up for my party or stand up for my constituents, but also to look out for the needs and rights of other citizens of this world. So it is in this debate on addressing poverty in Africa that I make my maiden speech. This carries some continuity from my predecessor, John Hume, whose last Prime Minister's question, earlier this year, was on this very same crucial issue.

The shadow Secretary of State mentioned that we are 20 years on from Live Aid—and 20 years ago this month, along with John Hume, I went on to a boat in the port of Derry, in my constituency, and met six stowaways from Ethiopia—refugees. Within days, the Home Office gave three of them refugee status and three exceptional leave to remain. Twenty years on, as we go towards Live8 and we face new African issues, we have to ask what prospects those people would face if they arrived now—just as Kate Hoey raised questions about what we are doing with refugees from Zimbabwe now.

This debate will be full of echoes of the challenging things that Bono, among others, has said to us all about Africa. I agree with them all, just as I applauded Bono for hailing John Hume as a hero, and Seamus Mallon as a giant of Irish politics. There might be spin games in Northern Ireland about who won the war and speculation about who will win the peace, but there can be no doubt about who won the argument. With John the architect and Seamus the engineer, the SDLP provided the blueprint and the construct of the Good Friday agreement.

The key precepts of that agreement were first spelled out in a 1972 SDLP paper, "Towards a New Ireland", which was in two parts, one offering the political argument and the other an institutional model. It will surprise no one in the House to hear that John Hume was the primary author of the rationale, but it may surprise Members to hear that a major contributor to the model outline was Kadar Asmal—then a law lecturer in Dublin and head of the Irish anti-apartheid movement. Since then, of course, he has been Minister for Water, and more recently Minister for Education, in a democratic South Africa.

In getting his ideals to prevail, John Hume led our community from grievance to governance. In a different context, with hugely different challenges, the African National Congress led their people from grievance to governance. In the debate on Make Poverty History, some people raise questions of governance almost as a dismissive counterpoint to the demand for debt relief, proper aid and fair trade. But there can be no sustainable solution to the governance questions in Africa without radical and durable resolution of Africa's grievances. Wrong as they have been, it is not the bad behaviour or poor performance of some African regimes that created the inequities and iniquities of the world economic order that handicap that continent.

In no way can the challenges facing Northern Ireland be equated with the mass suffering that afflicts so much of Africa. My own constituency of Foyle suffered death and destruction in the troubles, and has endured structural neglect and under-investment for decades. It shows up in the league tables as having the highest unemployment, the worst rates of long-term unemployment and high rates of economic inactivity, and many of its wards are among those with the highest concentrations of multiple deprivation, including child poverty and fuel poverty. I will be returning to those and related issues in future debates, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

But there is another league table that Derry consistently tops—that for popular giving to support development aid and combat poverty in Africa and other developing countries. I believe that that stems from a spirit not just of charity but of solidarity. Derry is more forward-looking and outward-looking than many people know, as is evidenced in the great work of so many schools, Churches and other groups in the Make Poverty History campaign and for other causes.

Derry should not just be defined by the sort of stark indicators that I mentioned earlier, without also being described by its tradition of self-help, its pathfinding partnerships, its cultural offering, its working aspiration to be a "city of learning", and the enterprise shown even against difficult odds. So I know too that although all Africans want us to focus properly on the ills of poverty, disease, hunger, child mortality and lack of education and health services, they also want us to recognise their good endeavours, their initiative, their cultural vibrancy, their talents and their ambitions. They want us to recognise their efforts to grow out of poverty, to invest properly, to foster enterprise and deliver community-based development, to combat disease, to provide safe water, to keep children alive to school age and then to guarantee them a school.

It is when we see both what Africans are offering, as well as what Africans are suffering that we get a fuller sense of the compound injustice of their position. We cannot see corruption in African Governments and be blind to the corruption of an international economic order that locks people in poverty and stunts democracy, while mouthing "private enterprise" and "good governance" as a modern version of "Let them eat cake". We cannot preach property rights while we deny production rights.

The Make Poverty History campaign has three demands—debt relief, more and better aid, and trade justice. Debt relief is not just about writing off African mistakes. It is about righting a world wrong. Debt relief means allowing Africa to focus more of its own spending on its own potential, its own needs, rather than on liabilities that it should not owe anyone. It will release important margins of African countries' gross national product for investment in vital services such as health and education. It should mean that the benefits of economic growth allow more Africans to make a living, rather than allowing banks and institutions to make a killing.

I welcome the debt relief package for the poorest countries, brokered by the Chancellor with his G8 colleagues. Its value should not be underestimated, nor should it be overestimated. We need to recognise that many poor peoples in regions of hardship will not benefit directly. We also need to realise that funding debt relief from aid budgets can be seen as robbing Peter to pay Peter. More remains to be done. I believe that the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for International Development will try to get more and better, through, for instance, sponsorship of the international finance facility.

The second demand is for aid levels to rise to 0.7 per cent. of GNP. That target was set and promised as long ago as 1970, and has been set again many times by many countries. We now have the solemn commitments of the millennium development goals, which are not just about overall aid levels but about very specific outcomes in education, health, housing, safe water and so forth.

Judged on our record, our promises mean little or nothing. We are hardly in a position to preach to Africa about performance and delivery standards from Government. New promises on aid are overdue, but still under-reliable. Such commitments should be absolute and should do exactly what it says on the tin, with no more evasions consisting of micro-statistical comparisons with what others are not doing, or attempts to include popular donations to aid agencies. That applies not just to the G8 but to all countries, not least EU countries and particularly—for me—Ireland. I entirely back the case for targeting and tracking increased aid, but that proper priority should not be an excuse for our lack of urgency and diligence in living up to earlier promises.

The third plank is trade justice: allowing people a fair price for what they produce, allowing African countries to add value to what they produce, and allowing them to grow their way out of poverty. It must involve ending the travesty of their having to scale the high dam gates of protection tariffs around us when they struggle to avoid drowning as we flood their markets by dump-pouring goods below world prices.

While there are some critics of the case for debt relief and aid, none of us parliamentarians are being actively lobbied against them. That will not be the case when it comes to some of the issues in the world trade round building up to December. Interests in or near our constituencies will bring us legitimate concerns, as businesses or unions. Organised interests will lobby us on the implications and complications of trade round choices. In that confusion and concern, and after the hype of Gleneagles, we must not be tempted to fall for the Meatloaf standard that "two out of three ain't bad". We must not decide that trade justice can wait while we let better aid and debt relief work. Africa needs justice now—not two thirds of justice, but all of it.

2:31 pm
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Andrew MacKay (Deputy Chairman (Candidates), Conservative Party; Bracknell, Conservative)

It is a huge privilege to follow Mark Durkan. Nearly everyone in the House was delighted when he won a very difficult election in his constituency last month. He is a courageous politician who has had a distinguished career in Northern Ireland, most recently in the Executive and the Assembly. It was typical of him that his speech was not just about the Province, but was an international speech in a significant international debate. He also used the opportunity to point out, rightly, that the city he represents and loves, Derry, is a big city with a big heart, which looks outwards as he did. I hope that he will ably represent his constituency for many years to come.

This has been a significant debate in another respect. In my experience, there have not been many occasions on which we have heard two such fine speeches from the Front Benches. The Secretary of State is respected in all parts of the House for his huge enthusiasm but also for his hardnosed realism, matched with a rare eloquence. We have high hopes that he will continue his good work throughout this Parliament. I hope that the Prime Minister, or his successor, will not be so unwise as to move him in a reshuffle, because we need him in his Department for the entire Parliament.

I am delighted that my hon. and very good Friend Mr. Mitchell is the shadow Secretary of State. He has the eloquence but also the financial expertise to make a large contribution. I think that the two of them will work very closely together.

There are plenty of opportunities in the House for us to have rigorous debates, to play the party political game, to score points and also, perhaps, to thoroughly enjoy ourselves. Increasingly, however, I have noticed that that is a thing of the past in the context of international development, and the speeches we have heard so far have illustrated that very well.

Having said all that, I hope that the Secretary of State will forgive me if I draw attention to areas of concern as well as areas of consensus, as he rightly said that he wanted to listen carefully to the whole debate.

It is taken as read, as hon. Member for Foyle rightly pointed out a few moments ago, that there are many aspects to this debate. It is essential that more funds be made available for Africa—that is agreed—but it is also essential that that money be well spent. The hon. Gentleman was also correct when he said there is no point in trying to create an enterprise culture if the first bricks are not in place. The first bricks have to be education and health, but they also have to include good governance. There also has to be a level playing field.

I have criticised before our American allies and our European partners, who are the two principal culprits. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield rightly criticised the common agricultural policy, which we have to work to change. It is not just overburdening our contribution to the EU and its budget, which is bad enough; what it is really doing is ruining farmers across the third world, but particularly in Africa. We have to put great pressure on President Bush and on Congress every time that we meet American politicians. We have to point out the harm that their food subsidies are doing to Africa. This American Administration rightly see the problems in Africa. They are being financially very generous, but most of that will be largely wasted if they do not reform their own subsidies.

Most of all, we have to continue to fight against corruption, bad government and abuse of human rights in Africa. Mr. Clarke, who is a considerable expert in this field, chided us by saying that Zimbabwe is not Africa. To that degree he is right, and the Secretary of State pointed out the many success stories, but the Secretary of State also rightly pointed out the failures. I hope that the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill will bear with me if I spend most of the remaining few minutes of my speech talking about Zimbabwe, not least because his Government and the Leader of the House have not behaved well in failing to get a Minister to make a statement at the Dispatch Box on Zimbabwe, particularly bearing in mind the outrageous acts of the Mugabe regime, which has demolished so many houses for political purposes and abused human rights. I have no facility to express my concerns other than that which attaches to this debate.

Although the Secretary of State was right to say that wherever possible, our aid should go direct to Governments in Africa—democratically elected, one hopes—who can then choose how best to spend that money, that clearly cannot be so in Zimbabwe. He and I had an exchange on this issue during questions yesterday, and I hope that when the Under-Secretary winds up, he will further confirm that where doubt exists—there is no doubt in Zimbabwe: it is a clear-cut case—and there is fear of corruption and the abuse of human rights, we will concentrate more on the non-governmental organisations and less on giving money to the Government in question. Only when we are satisfied that there is good governance and a lack of corruption can the money go to that Government. That is very important indeed.

It is tragic that we have not intervened—I do not mean militarily—to put greater pressure on Zimbabwe, and that we have allowed Mugabe to abuse his people. We have to ask ourselves why, when action is taken against wrongdoing regimes in the Balkans, the middle east and Afghanistan, it has not been taken in Zimbabwe. It is so condescending to African people to say, "Oh, it's different. We don't want to upset Africa. We have to do things gently." Initially, I accepted that the situation should be dealt with through the African Union, of which I am a big supporter. As the Secretary of State pointed out earlier, the African Union has done some good, particularly in the Sudan, the Congo and the Central African Republic. In Zimbabwe, however, its record has been disgraceful—as has, I am afraid, the record of President Mbeki. I am great supporter of what has happened in South Africa: the transformation since apartheid has been quite remarkable and the reconciliation achieved has been deeply significant. Yet there remains a complete blind spot over Zimbabwe. When we see the President of Tanzania positively applauding what is happening in Zimbabwe, it sends a shiver down one's spine. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield mentioned that earlier.

We have to put greater pressure on our African friends to take action in Zimbabwe and we need more effective sanctions. It is possible to apply more effective and sharper sanctions and it is possible to take action against the deeply revolting business men in this country who are helping to fund the regime in Zimbabwe. We know who they are and we know where they live: it is time that enforcement officers in this country, perhaps emboldened by fresh legislation, took action against them.

I conclude by saying that I hope that all these issues are properly taken into account during this deeply significant week with the G8 meeting at Gleneagles. If we just throw money at the problem and do not resolve the other issues, the effort will largely be wasted, which would be a very great pity indeed.

2:41 pm
Photo of Michael Meacher

Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton, Labour)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's opening speech, which was excellent, spoken with passion and eloquence and, if I may say so, on the back of a good ministerial track record. I must however add that the congratulatory, nodding consensus across the Floor of the House on this subject is beginning to turn my stomach. I shall want to make some critical comments, but I believe that Gleneagles is a defining moment for this Government. There are a few rare occasions that expose the moral tenor of our times, and the Africa/climate change G8 may turn out, in the breadth of its positive vision, to be one of them. Given the sheer scale of what is being attempted and given that the British Government have been the prime impetus and driver behind the whole project, it must be said that if this can succeed, it will be one of the most important achievements—perhaps the most important achievement—of the Labour Government so far.

Securing international agreement on wiping out multilateral debt owed to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for 18 of the world's poorest countries, relieving them immediately of £22 billion of debt—a sum that might well be increased to about £28 billion in the next 12 to 18 months with the inclusion of a further nine very poor countries—is unquestionably a huge achievement. The significance of the deal is that dirt-poor countries such as Mozambique, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia, which are now obliged to spend more each year on servicing the debt by paying the interest than on their entire health or education budgets, will now at last have a chance to begin the fight to escape extreme poverty.

The United Nations Development Programme report of a few weeks ago projected that on current trends—that is, before the current deal—there would be 5 million deaths of babies and infants under five in Africa over the next decade. That figure will now be significantly cut as a result of the deal—though, of course, not by enough. I believe that the doubling of aid from $50 billion to about $100 billion a year is still needed in addition. Earlier in the debate, there was some question about the purpose of aid. I believe that its purpose is to build roads and infrastructure, and to put in place the health, education, training and other public services that are necessary for decent welfare and the economic take-off that the private sector will never provide on its own.

I know that President Bush is saying a bit more today, but the current US offer of $675 million is paltry compared with the extent of need. The US economy is worth $10 trillion; the US spends $400 billion every year on defence, but its aid budget is only 0.16 per cent. of GDP. It is the meanest of all the rich nations, but the Bush Administration are saying in effect that, for Africa, the US can afford an extra amount equal to only 0.08 per cent. of its annual defence budget. The Commission for Africa states in its excellent report that that is just one ninth of the absolute minimum that is necessary. The trouble is that the US never took much interest in Africa—at least until the 1990s, when oil was discovered off the west coast.

Quite rightly, much has been made of corrupt governance in Africa, and that dreadful problem needs to be tackled. It is used as an excuse to withhold aid, but helpful precedents have been agreed by NEPAD and some African Governments that would allow aid expenditure to be monitored and audited by independent agencies. That is a step forward. Moreover, the oil and mining industries that are notorious for bribing Government officials are now subject to transparency guidelines. Again, though, those guidelines must have force and they must be statutory.

The corrupt Governments in Africa are bad, but they are not the only ones at fault. We must not be blind to the fact that western practices are also reprehensible in some respects. All too often, tied aid is used as a form of subsidy for commercial exports. In addition, the US in particular often directs aid as a means of helping military allies such as Israel, and not as a way of relieving poverty. The ActionAid report released last month stated that 40 per cent. of global aid goes on over-priced assistance from international consultants. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has challenged that, but the figure is certainly substantial. So when we hear members of the free-trade right scorn Africa's aid junkies, we must ask exactly who those aid junkies are, and who profits so handsomely from the global aid system.

Considerable advances in aid and debt relief have been made in the run-up to the G8 meeting, but they pale into insignificance when compared with the fundamental goal—to transform the profoundly unjust and discriminatory international trading system that impoverished the developing countries in the first place. We have always demanded free trade from those countries, so that their markets could be opened up to our multinational corporations, but we do not always reciprocate. We do not practise unfettered free trade, as we limit access to our markets by means of quotas, high tariffs, so-called voluntary agreements and a host of other restrictions whenever our domestic industries come under pressure.

If we are honest, we must admit that the west does not really believe in free trade. What we really believe in is safeguarding our economic dominance at all costs. Nearly all the aid, loan and debt-relief packages put together by the World Bank and the IMF are predicated on liberalisation conditionalities. Before they can receive aid, developing countries are required to agree to dismantle tariff barriers, open up to foreign investment, privatise state-owned companies, reduce public services and hold down wages.

Now we are at it again. Paragraph 2 of the pre-G8 Finance Ministers' statement says that to qualify for debt relief developing countries must

"boost private sector development"

and eliminate

"impediments to private investment, both domestic and foreign."

To take just one example among many, that means that Uganda will have to sell off its water supplies, its agricultural services and its commercial bank, all with minimum regulation.

I do not especially like that policy, but if it worked, a good case could be made for it. But it does not work. According to the World Bank's figures, in its recent report, across the 20 years from 1960 to 1980, before it and the IMF started introducing strict conditions on countries that accepted their loans, median annual growth in developing countries was 2.5 per cent. a year. In the 18 years from 1980 to 1998, it was zero or 0.0 per cent. precisely. Trade is the best route out of poverty, as we can all agree, but not if it is fixed to keep developing countries in subjection as mere suppliers of commodities at rock-bottom prices with severely limited access to western markets. Yes, we should cancel the debt, but we should cancel it unconditionally. We also conveniently forget that all countries that have achieved economic take-off have done so behind high protective walls, and I hope that we will consider that for Africa, too.

2:51 pm
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Stephen O'Brien (Shadow Minister (Skills), Education; Eddisbury, Conservative)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I am always pleased to follow Mr. Meacher, with his long track record and undoubted concern on these issues. While he concluded on a more consensual note, a degree of anachronism crept into his arguments, because the whole point of the G8 and the Government's aims is that growth is not a zero sum game. The whole idea is that the growth of the rich countries can be spread through trade to help the growth of the developing nations and thus the world generally.

I start by setting out my total agreement with the proposition that the Government have a real opportunity at the G8 to set the agenda and the tone for the two paramount issues of far-reaching concern—climate change and relieving poverty in Africa. Those are the correct priorities, and they are laudable and timely. The Government have my party's support for those overarching themes. This is an occasion on which it is wholly appropriate—as my right hon. Friend Mr. Mackay said—to say that the Secretary of State's speech was one of the best and most memorable that I have heard in this House, and I am grateful to him for it. Equally, I appreciated the response from my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell. There is a danger of the debate turning into a paean of praise, but the whole point is that we have a shared belief in the importance of the subject and in translating our will into effective action. That is the challenge for all of us in this debating Chamber as we discuss the deeply disturbing problems on the ground in Africa.

Africa is a vast place and the topic is vast. I hope that the debate will bring out many aspects of the topic, but each one of us has to do our best to focus on the issues on which we can gain some purchase, instead of trying to cover the whole canvas. My own interest is well known, not least because I am Tanzanian born. I am chairman of the all-party group on that country, as well as the all-party malaria group. I am also involved with the all-party Africa group, whose chairman I see in his place, as well as being vice-chairman of the Uganda group and the debt, aid and trade group, which used to be the heavily indebted poor countries group and before that the Jubilee 2000 group—changes of name that demonstrate how these issues have developed over time.

It is pleasing to note that Tanzania has seen a massive increase in the take-up of primary education, from 4 million to 7 million, to which the Secretary of State referred. Of course, as I was finding out in a conversation with the high commissioner of Tanzania to this country just the other day, the challenge is how to develop the secondary education system. By the time one gets any system in place for primary education, the cohort of children who benefit quickly become those who are challenged by the need to develop and consolidate the advantage, all of which has been hugely strengthened and assisted by the good will and financial aid from this country and many others. So that is now the challenge for Tanzania, as well as reaching out to the many rural areas where primary education has not even begun to become a reality.

Although such things, as the Secretary of State said, are certainly examples of aid that works, we need to pause for a moment to wonder whether the phrase that he might have used in his speech is that aid can and often does work, but not always. It is important for the future that western donor countries and their people continue to have the confidence that aid is worth while and an essential thing for us to do. That has been touched on, and it is part of the Secretary of State's and the Government's priority. So when we focus on poverty, in addition to the cancellation of debt, the big challenge now involves multilateral debt, which is subject to much wider agreements and where a solution is more difficult to secure.

Most of us feel that the progress made on private bank debt and bilateral debt through the Paris Club has been very significant and very helpful. However, we should bear in mind the words of Anthony Montague Brown—the former private secretary to Sir Winston Churchill—who, after Sir Winston Churchill died, went off into the City and the banks. In 1976 and 1977, he was instrumental in extending a lot of loans to developing countries. He said in his book that of course people never expected those loans to be repaid. When that is analysed, it is clear that those debts have long since been written off by those banks. The interest has long been way in excess of what was a sensible, commercial return. Let us face it. Many of those debts have in fact been cancelled—rightly—which shows the mental approach at the time.

We should not forget that there comes a time—perhaps this helps the argument of the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton, who does not appear to be in his place at the moment—when we should think about cancelling, either without conditions or without too many conditions, the debts that are causing some of the continuing problems

Apart from hoping that the Secretary of State will carefully consider the arguments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield about the advocacy fund—a topic and policy in which I was glad to be involved in a previous incarnation in the House—my primary argument is that we must consider what gains the best leverage for the aid that is being translated from this country to Africa.

I am sure that many hon. Members are familiar with a very good body of work called the Copenhagen consensus, in which a rigorous assessment was undertaken of all the possible destinations for money in the developing countries and how best that can gain a purchase on the things that really matter when transforming those countries' structural inability to develop, so that they grow and gain the potential for economic independence. Such things were compared with many others that tended to be rather worthy.

I am inevitably bound to mention malaria. Hon. Members will know that I have an obsession with the need to tackle malaria. Rather than going through the detail, I shall quote what the Copenhagen consensus suggested:

"Many recommended malaria control interventions have a mean cost per Disability-Adjusted Life Year"—

even talking in those terms shows the hard-nosed assessments that we have to make, which the Secretary of State has been trying to establish—

"of less than . . . $50 a day and most of them less than . . . $25 which economists consider highly attractive in a very low-income country. As judged by the expert panel of Copenhagen Consensus, these are stunningly attractive investments. This panel of distinguished economists ranked controlling malaria as one of the top four global priorities that would yield the largest benefit/cost ratio."

Given that one of the other factors was dealing with climate change from the western world, we need to consider carefully whether we should devote aid to things other than health and education, clean water and the controlling of infectious disease. They bring the greatest advantages. In addition, we should free the rules for trade and support good governance.

How do we get the money past the tyrants to the poorest people? We face a difficult dichotomy. Where good governance exists, we should use it as a test and reward it with aid directed via Governments, through a liaison committee or non-governmental organisations. I used to think that aid should go directly to NGOs, but to reward good governance we have to go through the democratic processes so that democratically elected politicians gain some credit for what they have done. We should reward them "pour encourager les autres". Unfortunately, of course, les autres are often tyrants who do not allow people in the poorest countries to know about good governance. That is both a challenge and a dichotomy.

As there is a restriction on the overall package, we should use the money to best leverage effect and reward those who have shown good governance. It will increase the confidence of the west in continuing and sustaining that money if we ask for it to be directed where we would gain most leverage.

The Copenhagen consensus made it clear, through a rigorous test, that controlling infectious disease was cost-effective. HIV/AIDS and TB unquestionably belong in that category. So, too, does malaria, which is hollowing out the generation of children that replaced those killed by HIV/AIDS.

We must concentrate on training people to deliver health care. Malaria is treatable and curable. The all-party group on malaria recently produced a persuasive report and I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for attending its launch. We can all collectively be proud and confident that, rather than just being worthy, we are making a huge and effective difference to the future of Africa and its peoples.

3:01 pm
Photo of Ann McKechin

Ann McKechin (Glasgow North, Labour)

It is a pleasure to follow Mr. O'Brien, who made a thoughtful speech.

Our debate will rightly concentrate on the statistical evidence of the need to address Africa's poverty, to release its potential to grow and flourish, but as the Commission for Africa report correctly states:

"We have to remember that behind each statistic lies a child who is precious and loved. Every day that child, and thousands like her, struggle for breath—and for life—and tragically and painfully lose that fight."

I have had the opportunity to visit Africa only since I was elected, and I have witnessed the outstanding beauty of the continent and the warmth of its people, but I recognise the scale of the challenge that they face and their overwhelming desire for a better future. I am sure that Mr. Robertson will remember our visit to Rwanda. I shall never forget the scenes at the genocide site and the gacaca trial that we attended.

Last September, I visited Zambia on a British Council parliamentary exchange and followed the hon. Regina Musokotwane around her constituency in the rural south. We visited two schools. One had been opened by the state government, after the local community had waited almost 30 years; the other was built by local people themselves with supplies from a US charity. They had no money for a qualified teacher. They had no power or even a water borehole, and the school could offer only a basic syllabus for the first two years of primary education. The people were incredibly proud of their achievement—rightly so; but at the same time as my visit, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were insisting on a nil budget deficit to enable the Zambian Government to reach the heavily indebted poor countries completion point. As a result, 5,000 qualified teachers had no job and the World Bank representative in Zambia was informing politicians that they should stop criticising his institution.

As the commission's report points out, debt relief is key to achieving the millennium development goals not only for the current HIPC group, but also for many other nations in sub-Saharan Africa. Was the meeting of G7 Ministers earlier this month what the Chancellor described as "a historic breakthrough" on the issue of debt? On certain key criteria, we can definitely say yes, but with the caveat that the fight to establish fully adequate debt relief has still some way to go.

I am chair of the all-party group on debt, aid and trade—formerly the all-party group on HIPC—and our group has long argued the justice of granting 100 per cent. debt relief to the world's poorest nations. I pay tribute to my predecessor as chair of the group, Julia Drown, the former Member for Swindon, South, for her marvellous work in pursuing that campaign. The decision taken at the meeting to grant 100 per cent. debt relief not only on the interest, but on the debt stock, for the world's 18 poorest countries, with another nine to be added in the next couple of years, was welcome.

The US Administration changed stance by agreeing to include International Monetary Fund debt as well as World Bank debt in the deal. That is significant because IMF debt is extremely onerous and constitutes half of all debt service obligations to the main multilateral institutions. The agreement to replenish the funds of the international financial institutions rather than reducing the amount available for grants was also significant. That news, when added to the recent announcement by EU states that they will effectively double their aid to Africa over the next five years and set a timetable to reach the target of 0.7 per cent, is a leap forward. I am sure that the private Member's Bill being promoted by my right hon. Friend Mr. Clarke, who is not in the Chamber, will help us to ensure that we reach that target.

This in itself is not however sufficient to allow Africa to meet its millennium development goals. Let us not forget that that was what the international community solemnly promised to achieve more than five years ago. We must go a great deal further and acknowledge now that such additional effort is achievable, rather than a pipe dream. Just last year, the international community cancelled $30 billion of debt owed by Iraq, which is more than has been delivered to the entire African continent over the past 10 years.

Even at this late stage, the G8 summit should next week consider extending the remit of the G7 debt proposal. The original HIPC list was drawn up in 1996 on a rather flimsy analytical basis and excluded key states such as Kenya and Angola. Kenya's total debt is $5.5 billion and 70 million Kenyans live on less than $1 a day, yet the World Bank considers its debt sustainable, despite the fact that 32 per cent. of its national budget is spent on servicing the debt, which is more than the amount spent on health and education combined. According to a debt sustainability analysis by the Jubilee debt campaign, Kenya needs total debt cancellation if it is ever to realise its millennium development goals. Some Kenyan politicians have suggested that the country is being penalised for keeping up debt payments. Debt relief seems to remain as elusive as ever for such nations.

It has been calculated that 35 non-HIPC, low-income countries warrant immediate 100 per cent. debt cancellation just so they can have a chance of meeting their millennium goals. To be fair, the UK Government have recognised that fact by agreeing to write off their share of multilateral debt for the world's poorest nations.

This month's agreement cancels only 10 per cent. of the debt owed by all 62 states with the lowest incomes which need 100 per cent. cancellation. The deal will amount to $1 billion per year for the next 40 years. That is $40 billion in nominal terms, but it is perhaps more accurately described as a net present value of $17 billion.

I know that the US Administration was reluctant to accept the sale of IMF gold reserves to fund debt relief and that an alternative decision was reached, but given that we in the UK accept the case for using the IMF's vast undervalued gold resources for the further extension of relief, will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State continue pressing the point in the international community that we should give more relief and that we have a method of expanding debt relief? The undervaluation is estimated at $35 billion, so surely it is unreasonable to offer the people of Africa less relief from odious debt than what is offered to the current Iraqi Administration.

I welcomed the deal on Nigeria that was reached this week at the Paris Club. Will my right hon. Friend indicate the total amount of relief that will be granted to Nigeria as a result of the initiative?

I turn quickly to the conditionality that surrounds debt relief. Although I fully accept that we must show that relief is genuinely used properly and specifically for poverty eradication, I argue that multilateral institutions must accept responsibility for the many mistakes that they have made in the past by imposing inappropriate economic policies that were not focused on poverty reduction. I welcome the paper by the Department for International Development and the Treasury on conditionality, which acknowledges that fundamental changes must be made.

I am worried that those states that have still to reach the HIPC process—there are a number of them—could find themselves in exactly the same position as Zambia last year by spending all their energies on achieving nil budget deficits, rather than employing teachers, who are vital in the fight against poverty. The statement of the G7 Finance Ministers makes no concession on that. Instead, it ambiguously refers to good governance, accountability and transparency as crucial to releasing the benefits of debt cancellation. That appears to be a further test applied to low-income states on top of the already demanding requirements of the HIPC process.

It has been difficult to draw the boundaries between good governance conditions and economic policy conditions, with policy reforms, such as privatisation, sometimes promoted on an anti-corruption basis. Of course, there should be accountability, but as Mr. O'Brien said, if we truly wish to foster good governance and democracy in a genuinely equal partnership with African Governments, we have to allow them and their citizens to make their own economic decisions and to take responsibility. Will the Minister assure me that the Government will press for further relief not to be subject to economically damaging conditionalities?

I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for International Development on their enormous efforts over the past few months to place Africa at the top of the G8 agenda next week. That is proper and fit. To use a cliché, we are going forward and not back, but we need to maintain that effort so that Africa achieves its full potential, which is what we all desire. I hope that the Minister uses his good efforts to persuade the G8 to go even further next week.

3:11 pm
Photo of Tony Baldry

Tony Baldry (Banbury, Conservative)

Ann McKechin made an excellent speech, which included some powerful points. She demonstrated that Mr. Meacher was wrong to dislike consensus. If hon. Members speak with a united voice, our message is that much clearer to the rest of the world. There are others whom we have to convince, not least Congress in the United States and colleagues in other legislative Assemblies, that what we want to do, and what we are promoting, is correct and that our policies are right. The House speaking with one voice is powerful.

I want to comment on climate change, conflict, capacity, commerce and commitment. On climate change, we have to recognise that what is happening at Gleneagles is not two separate debates on climate change and Africa, because they relate to each other. Climate change is important for Africa and developing countries. If I had one sadness in the last Parliament, it was that the International Development Committee's report on climate change and sustainable development did not get the coverage it deserved. I commend it to hon. Members.

Vulnerable communities will suffer from climate change most. It also contributes to conflict. One reason why we have problems in Darfur is that the Sahel desert is moving south and there is more desertification. Pastoralists who used to move their cattle around over the grass are finding it more difficult to find grazing land. They, in turn, put pressure on farmers, which led to conflict. That is all about climate change. Getting both things right is important. I hope that the G8 tackles Africa and climate change.

On conflict, the Secretary of State was right when he talked about peer review mechanisms and what is happening in Ghana and elsewhere, and with NEPAD. That is brilliant. However, there is no peer group pressure in Africa on conflict. There is no excuse for what is happening in Zimbabwe. There is also no excuse for neighbouring countries not exerting peer group pressure on Mugabe.

These debates are brilliant, but we tend to have two lots of debates. We have international development debates and we have foreign affairs debates, and the two never come together. It would be wonderful if both Secretaries of State were present or we at least had a Minister from the other Department to wind up the debate. The issues all interrelate. I suspect one reason why we do not have the sort of peer group pressure that we should have on Zimbabwe is that the South Africans are concerned about the collapse of Zimbabwe and what that would mean in terms of refugees coming across into their country. There is still no excuse for the lack of pressure, however.

There is no excuse for Nigeria not to hand over Charles Taylor to stand trial in the war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone. We understand that it got him out of Liberia and provided him with asylum, but that was a long time ago. A UN-backed warrant has been issued for Taylor to stand trial before a UN-backed court. He should stand trial, and if he does not, I hope that the UN war crimes tribunal will find a way of trying him in absentia. Such trials happened at Nuremburg; I see no reason why they should not happen in Freetown.

On conflict, we do not seem to have a coherent strategy on military or other intervention for the purposes of humanitarian relief. Everything is done on an ad hoc basis: the French went into Côte d'Ivoire; we went into Sierra Leone. We have a different mechanism now for Darfur. The African Union is fine; those of us who have seen its work were very impressed, but we are never quite sure how it is going to be funded. Different Secretaries of State come to the Dispatch Box at different times and say that it will be funded by NATO or the European Union, or perhaps by a bit of money from the United Nations. There is absolutely no coherence on this issue. If we have another humanitarian crisis in Africa, who will take the lead? On what basis? According to what ground rules? There is also no excuse for Ethiopia not acknowledging the international arbitration over Ethiopia and Eritrea. In all these situations, there are some things that Africa has to do and others that we have to do. We need much greater coherence in regard to the way in which the international community intervenes.

The Commission for Africa's report clearly states that capacity is the most important factor. One of the things that strikes us when we visit Departments and Ministries in Africa is how thin the capacity is. The report makes it clear that it is important that more be done to train civil servants, and to develop higher and further education and skills in Africa. About three quarters of those who leave Africa to pursue higher education never return. What has happened to higher education in Africa over the past couple of decades has been a tragedy, and it is now in need of considerable investment. We also need to help parliamentarians in Africa, as we have said on many occasions. We have organisations such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and they should do more to support parliamentarians in Africa, to enable them to understand what is involved in holding Governments to account.

On commerce, the figures show that Africa's economies need to grow by 7 per cent. a year if there is to be any hope of meeting the millennium development goals, yet many are growing by no more than 1 per cent. a year. The vice-president of Sierra Leone was speaking today at Chatham House about how his country was going to go forward, but very little is happening there. It would be very difficult for its economy to grow by more than 1 per cent. a year at the moment. During the last Parliament, the International Development Committee went to South Africa. The unemployment rate in many of the townships there was between 60 and 70 per cent.

We all talk about health, education and AIDS in Africa, but an issue that we must all address is that of enterprise. Where are the new jobs going to come from? We saw Lesotho get a toe-hold in the textile industry for a while, only to get completely knocked off course by what is happening in China. Of course, what happens at the WTO talks in Hong Kong later this year will be very important, but south-south trade is also important, and there is a great deal of trade that does not involve the reform of the WTO rules. It is difficult to see how even a country as influential as South Africa can be sustainable in the long term if it continues to have to support unemployment rates of 60 or 70 per cent. We need to pay a lot more attention to commerce.

On commitment, some people believe that if we manage to achieve what the Prime Minister and the Chancellor hope to achieve at Gleneagles, we shall be able simply to tick that box. However, this is a long-haul issue. We are miles behind on the millennium development goals. What leaves the greatest impression on my mind when I visit Africa is the persistent, grinding, unremitting poverty that so many people have to endure. We must tackle that problem, but it will not be done in a matter of weeks or months; it will require a long-term commitment by all of us in the House over many years. It is brilliant that there is now broad cross-party agreement on that, because Governments—irrespective of their political persuasion—will need to maintain that commitment over the next five, 10 or 15 years. We have a simple choice as a civilisation—either we get this right and meet the millennium development goals or we just turn our back on Africa and shut the door. From some articles and reports in the press it is clear that some people are urging us to do the latter. They do not see the point of investing in Africa or of caring about it. We care about Africans, because they are fellow human beings, and are as valuable, valid and important as any other individual. Our commitment must therefore be long term. The fact that in the past few years these issue have risen up the political agenda in the House and the fact that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are making a political commitment are to be greatly applauded. Everyone in the House hopes that they will succeed at the G8 conference and that we can take a definite step forward to ensure that we meet the millennium development goals by 2015.

3:20 pm
Photo of John McFall

John McFall (West Dunbartonshire, Labour)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. I pay tribute to the sterling work that Tony Baldry has done as Chairman of the International Development Committee. We are all grateful for his chairmanship of that Committee in the last Parliament. I congratulate Mark Durkan on his maiden speech and, as has been said, his contribution over a period of many years to the Northern Ireland peace process. It has been lonely and rocky, but it needed courage, which he has shown in abundance. I welcome him to the House and wish him well in his endeavours both as leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party and as a Member of Parliament.

I congratulate the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for International Development on the agreement that they secured from the G8 Finance Ministers. The fact that all multilateral debts and some bilateral debts have been written off is a huge step forward. Congratulations should also go to ordinary people. For many years, my constituents, as well as Churches and voluntary organisations in my constituency have worked with me on the Jubilee 2000 campaign and other initiatives. More than 3,000 of my constituents signed up to those campaigns, so there is enormous enthusiasm locally. Many events have taken place in my local schools over the years. More than a year ago, on my return from a visit to Zambia, we organised a Christmas response to the problems there. Almost £18,000 was generated by the local community, including primary schools. St. Michael's primary school in my constituency, for example, contributed £1,500. Christie Park school mounted a spontaneous concert and gathered £200 from parents as they came to collect their children from school. Secondary schools, including the Vale of Leven academy, Dumbarton academy and, in particular, Our Lady and St. Patrick's high school have a taken lifelong interest in the subject.

Eammon Cullen is one of the teaching colleagues with whom I used to work. He teaches at Our Lady and St. Patrick's, where he organised a justice and peace group. It has been in existence for more than 20 years, so the young people in my constituency can say that they worked on these initiatives before we did. I pay tribute to Eammon and his colleagues. He is about to retire after 30 years' teaching service in Our Lady and St. Patrick's school, but his interest will not decline and he will work with renewed vigour on justice and peace and other issues that are vital to the Gleneagles summit. Without that groundswell of support, the Government and the G8 would not be where they are. May I therefore suggest to the Minister that, given the enthusiasm of young people in my constituency and elsewhere, he and the Secretary of State should devise an initiative to engage them? They could provide finance and opportunities for them to engage with a particular country in Africa and thus achieve a constituency focus on the subject. The only way we will take the goals forward is by passing the task from generation to generation. Given the good work that young people have undertaken to date, I would like the Government to respond with an initiative such as I have suggested.

We have a once in a lifetime opportunity, as has been said. The UK is hosting the G8 summit, the UK holds the EU presidency, the UN summit on the millennium development goals is taking place later in the year, and the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting will be held in Hong Kong in December. To date we have failed miserably on the millennium development goals. The rich nations pledged that there would be primary education for all in the developing countries by 2015, but present estimates indicate that it will not be universally available until 2130—115 years late. The rich nations pledged to halve poverty by 2015, but that will not be achieved until 2150—135 years late. The rich nations pledged to eliminate avoidable infant deaths, but that will not be achieved until 2165—150 years late.

If a citizen of one of the developing countries asked whether there was any justice in the world, the answer would manifestly be no. Does that make the task impossible for us? Certainly not. There needs to be a much more urgent focus on the three intertwining strands of aid, trade and debt. We have heard today about aid to Africa. From 1981 to 2001 the number of poor people in Africa doubled from 164 million to 313 million. That level of deprivation is unconscionable. It is accompanied by disease, conflict and squalor.

The injustice in global trade has been mentioned. The rich countries' massive support and protection for their own agriculture is paradoxical, since agriculture is the sector with the greatest potential in Africa to decrease poverty and achieve the pro-poor engagement that is so crucial, particularly to rural Africa. On debt, notwithstanding the agreement that has been made—we do not yet know the details—Africa still owes almost $300 billion and pays off $15 billion a year in interest and fees. Only seven states out of the 53 in the African Union have seen their debts reduced to sustainable levels.

I mentioned Zambia. I have had a number of contacts with civic society in Lusaka, having visited on a few occasions and having welcomed representatives of that society in the United Kingdom. One of my friends, Peter Henriot, runs the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection in Lusaka. Peter and his group undertook an economic, social and cultural rights survey in March this year. One of the issues on which they focused for countries like ours was employment. At present 90 per cent. of Zambians are unemployed or work in precarious conditions in the informal sector. They are hampered by inadequate skills, inadequate capital and inadequate support for infrastructure. When we discuss aid, it is important to focus on transport and other aspects to ensure that people in rural areas can be involved in and welcomed into the country's economic development.

Despite the fact that the Zambian Government provide free primary education, education is gradually becoming the privilege of the very few. Tuition fees in colleges and in the two universities in Zambia range between US$60 a year and US$1,600, which is beyond the reach of the vast majority of Zambians. On public health, my colleagues tell me that only 15 per cent. of houses have access to proper toilet facilities. The 2000 census on population and housing indicates that although 49 per cent. have access to safe water, 51 per cent. do not. The lack of access to clean water and sanitation presents a huge risk to public health in that country. The statistics are dismal, but they remind us of our task.

Mention has been made of the economic and social progress that our country had to make, so let us compare our country with Zambia. In the UK, the death rate per 1,000 population is 10.8, whereas it is 20.23 in Zambia, which is double the UK rate. In the UK, infant mortality is 5.16 per 1,000 live births, whereas it is 112 in Zambia. In the UK, life expectancy is 78.5 years, whereas it is 37 years in Zambia, where 23 per cent. of under-fives are underweight, too.

Mrs. Dorries asked, "Why has Africa gone backwards?" Africa has gone backwards since the 1960s. Living standards and growth levels in Africa in the 1960s were greater than they were in the 1990s, but does that mean that we should halt our support—

3:31 pm
Photo of Pete Wishart

Pete Wishart (Chief Whip; Perth and North Perthshire, Scottish National Party)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to participate in what has been, as expected, a fascinating and enthralling debate.

I pay tribute to the maiden speech by Mark Durkan. His reputation precedes him, and I am sure that he is a worthy successor to John Hume. In the summer, an SDLP Member and I are visiting the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and I am looking forward to it.

As has been said, Africa is a huge subject, and no one speech can do justice to the myriad issues. My particular concerns are the conditions imposed on debt relief—so-called conditionalities—and compliance, which concerns the international community's failure to honour its commitments to Africa in previous years and decades. I will even suggest a mechanism, which would be easy to set up, by which we can honour any new commitments that might be made at next week's G8 summit.

The Government's decision to place Africa on the G8 summit agenda was inspired, and I congratulate them on galvanising public opinion and making Africa part of the public consciousness, which has created an almost unstoppable and insatiable demand finally to address African poverty. However, expectations are heady and the issue could become a cross for them to bear, because the British public expect the rhetoric to be matched by action. I urge the Government not to resort to their Pavlovian instinct of spinning—some of the Chancellor's contributions have come close—because the British public, who expect action to be taken, will find them out.

Next week, the expectation will reach a crescendo as the G8 circus eventually rolls into Perthshire. I am sure that Scotland will be an excellent host, and I am looking forward to it putting on an excellent show. I will be marching with colleagues in the Make Poverty History march in Edinburgh on Saturday and am also fortunate enough to have secured my tickets for next week's Live 8 event at Murrayfield, where I look forward to seeing the cream of Scotland's artists and international acts.

It is an understatement to say that my constituents in Perthshire, along with people in Edinburgh and throughout the rest of Scotland, are bracing themselves for the arrival of the G8 summit with a mixture of apprehension, concern and anxiety. Perthshire will bear the brunt of any pain created in the next few weeks, but hopefully it will also gain, because we will be highly visible throughout next week as images of our beautiful corner of the country are transmitted across the world.

Like all hon. Members, I hope that real progress is finally made on addressing African poverty at the G8 summit. The G8 summit has rightly been described as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get to grips with the problem, and it is there to be grasped. It would be fantastic if that beautiful little corner of Scotland is for ever and a day associated with making progress in Africa, and it would be wonderful if the "Perthshire accord", or whatever we call it, were for ever remembered for starting to make poverty history.

It now seems as if everybody and their granny is getting involved in the debate about Africa. Even the BBC has discovered where Africa is and has shown some fantastic programmes in the past few weeks. Of course, all my old chums from the world of rock and roll are gearing themselves up for the Live 8 concerts next week. Although I do not share Bono's view that Blair and Brown are the Lennon and McCartney of international politics—my hon. Friends and I see them more as its Laurel and Hardy—I welcome the contribution that Bono, Bob Geldof and the rest of these international artists have made to creating the groundswell of public support for trying to deal effectively with poverty in Africa.

But in order to make progress on Africa, it is time for the politics to kick in. That is our job. We must finally ensure that there is compliance and that we get the best possible deal that we can in order to address African poverty. The last thing that anybody wants is for this massive circus to come into town, say a few words, and then pull up its pegs and go on its way again. There would be massive frustration and disappointment if we were marched to the top of the African hill only to be marched all the way down again.

That is why in recent weeks I have called for a legacy—a permanent resource—to be left behind in Perthshire to ensure that whatever is agreed to next week is adhered to and that the commitment has been made. We must have some mechanism in place to ensure that the big promises that we expect to be announced next week are finally turned into reality on the ground, that the work is co-ordinated, and that any agreements reached at Gleneagles are effectively monitored and acted upon. I have even written to the Prime Minister to suggest the establishment of a co-ordinating centre bringing together the G8 Governments, the African nations, the non-governmental organisations, the charities, and the academics involved in this field to establish best practice and to ensure that all the commitments that we have made to Africa are delivered. Of course that should be financed by the G8 and should be in beautiful Perthshire near to the site of Gleneagles.

Compliance is important. When we look at the record of the G8 nations, we have to acknowledge that their compliance has been pretty poor in terms of what they have agreed to in their summits and the commitments that they have given to the developing world. The international community has consistently let Africa down at times when it has promised the earth. We are nowhere near meeting our international commitments. The millennium development goals now seem like nothing other than distant aspirations. There has been no real progress on the targets that were set on HIV/AIDS, peace-building, and so on. We have gone backwards in Africa instead of forwards. Following the Toronto G8, research found that G8 members comply only modestly with their commitments. That cannot happen with important commitments to Africa, which is why the legacy—the permanent resource—must be left behind. We cannot allow Africa to be left on its own once more.

While compliance is being monitored, it should also be possible to look at the conditions for aid. The setting of conditions for debt relief and aid should be as apolitical as possible. Politically dogmatic western Governments should not be trying to impose their political will on African Governments. I have big problems with the conditions imposed on debt relief by the G8 Finance Ministers in recent weeks. Yes, we must tackle poor governance and corruption. Corruption cripples poor nations, especially in Africa.

I recognise that, as Mr. O'Brien said, tensions are involved in tackling poor governance and corruption, but we should do what we can to ensure that those who are subject to appalling dictators and despots are not left in the poverty in which they find themselves. We have to be just that little bit more creative in how we deal with the tensions. It is not good enough to draw up lists of the worthy and deserving and, by implication, a list of those who have been discarded. No one can argue against good governance, and everybody would want aid to be targeted to the nations and regimes that will ensure that it is passed on to their populations, but I am concerned when those conditionalities start to intrude into how Governments should govern.

Mr. Meacher mentioned the Finance Ministers' report, in which they referred to

"eliminating impediments to private investment".

What they meant was that commercialisation, privatisation and the liberalisation—

Photo of Charles Walker

Charles Walker (Broxbourne, Conservative)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the rule of law and property rights in South Africa have encouraged private investment, and have made that country a beacon of hope in Africa? Before he dismisses private investment entirely, perhaps he should consider what it has done for South Africa over the past decade.

Photo of Pete Wishart

Pete Wishart (Chief Whip; Perth and North Perthshire, Scottish National Party)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for those remarks, and I agree with them. In some instances, private investment is exactly the right way to go, but the one-size-fits-all approach of western Governments demanding liberalisation and privatisation is a step too far. The right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton mentioned the example of Uganda and the privatisation without regulation that costs that nation millions of pounds. It gets worse—to qualify for the next round of debt relief, the Ugandan Government must sell their water supplies, agricultural services and commercial banks, probably at great loss to that nation again.

Photo of John Hemming

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley, Liberal Democrat)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one can distinguish between the need for the rule of law and privatisation? One can have the rule of law without necessarily having privatisation.

Photo of Pete Wishart

Pete Wishart (Chief Whip; Perth and North Perthshire, Scottish National Party)

Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and I hope that he has an opportunity to expand on that if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Certain things work for certain countries, but the attitude that western Governments must impose their view of what should happen in Africa concerns me most.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge the role of Scotland. We are hosting the G8, and we will have all those fantastic demonstrations. I hope that Scotland will be seen positively around the world, and that the events pass off peacefully. I am concerned about some of the security and policing issues—I still do not know who will meet the £100 million expected costs of hosting the G8, and I certainly hope that it will not be the council tax payers of Perth and Kinross.

I want to praise Scotland's First Minister, however, for undertaking his mission to Malawi several weeks ago. He has rightly upped Scotland's international ambition by taking that trip, and I hope that he is congratulated by the Minister in the wind-up. The First Minister has acknowledged that Scotland has a particular and specific role to play in the developing world, especially in nations such as Malawi, with which we have a great association through the work of David Livingstone and Christian missionaries in the 19th century. I hope that that is noticed. The First Minister acknowledged that we have that distinctive role—I agree with him—and I am glad that he did so.

If we can achieve that in Malawi, however, surely we can do it in other nations, too. I do not want Scotland's ambition thwarted; I want to see Scotland do a lot more of that. I encourage the First Minister, the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament to undertake more of that type of work. I also believe that were we a sovereign, self-governing nation, we would reach that 0.7 per cent. target, as other small nations have done, which has proved elusive for some of the larger Governments.

I am looking forward to next week, which I think will be a fantastic week for Scotland, and to a new role for Scotland internationally. Let us ensure, however, that any decisions taken at Gleneagles in Perthshire next week are acted on, and that we get compliance. Let us ensure, too, that we do not make eliminating poverty conditional.

3:43 pm
Photo of Gordon Banks

Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire, Labour)

In approaching this debate, I am reminded of the defining statement of the Labour party, produced on the back of each membership card:

"by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone".

Through that statement of principle and notion of solidarity, I hope that our fellow parliamentarians and legislators around the world, and our fellow people around the world, come together sincerely to address the huge injustice that exists in Africa.

Levels of poverty in Africa are beyond that which many of us in the Chamber can comprehend. Despite the images on our television screens, and the reports from Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and other nations, we cannot truly comprehend what it must be like to live on £1 a week or a small portion of rice a day, or to walk miles just to collect a small amount of water. Our life of relative luxury does not come close to the endless hardships faced by the people of Africa. By the strength of our common endeavour, however, we have already begun to achieve something.

In Uganda, debt relief of £700 million in 2000 helped to increase its poverty reduction budget by 75 per cent. Since then, Uganda has abolished health user fees, and attendance in clinics has risen by a staggering 87 per cent. In Rwanda, the revenue authority has increased revenue by 40 per cent. over two years, allowing the Government to double spending on health and education and improving the lives of many Rwandans, both young and old. Possibly more importantly, we have written off 100 per cent. of the debt owed by the poorest countries to the UK.

We cannot become complacent, however. We cannot stop working towards a greater good for the continent of Africa. In a week's time, the leaders of the world's eight richest nations will meet at the Gleneagles hotel in my constituency. This will be a real chance to increase the speed at which change is brought about and to give back to Africa some of what was taken from it during the years of imperial rule.

Debt relief is a vital part of the relief of poverty in Africa. Nations can spend a lifetime simply paying back the interest on their debts. All too often, the moneys involved are small for western nations but huge for the African nations, where the debts hang round countries' necks, prohibiting their development and progress.

This Labour Government's commitment to debt relief has led the way for other nations. The Prime Minister, with the Secretary of State for International Development and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has constantly maintained the pressure on other nations to join our campaign to eradicate poverty. We now see the beginnings of the international finance facility, pledges to ensure that Government spending on aid reaches 0.7 per cent. of GDP, and a dedication to wipe out the debts of those nations so that they can begin to lift their citizens out of poverty.

However, debt relief must be coupled with governance changes in those countries. Democracy needs to be strengthened, and corruption stemmed. We must provide the necessary assistance to individual African nations to help them to diversify and stimulate internal and external economic relationships, and to become more fiscally understanding of the needs of good governance.

We cannot simply write off debt in the hope that countries that have been ravaged by dictatorship, military rule and war will bloom into model nation states. Corruption is a huge problem, and improvements must be made to ensure that the assistance reaches the people whom it is meant to reach. We cannot assume that individual nations can always make those changes on their own. We must provide them with the help that they need to take those steps, so as to guarantee that the debt relief that this Government and many others have fought to secure can be effectively managed.

Addressing debt relief and governance will not solve all Africa's problems, however. There were 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS in Africa in 2003, with 5 million new infections in that year alone. HIV/AIDS directly or indirectly affects nearly everyone in Africa. Hundreds of thousands of children are left orphaned by parents who have contracted the disease, and the stigma attached to the illness breaks up communities. The cost of drugs that help fight the infection make those who suffer even poorer.

The IFF will allow us to build the health care systems that those countries need to combat HIV/AIDS, and to implement a plan for prevention and care—and, I hope, one day a cure. Nelson Mandela said that AIDS is a curse that we must not deny, and better education in countries such as South Africa can help to set the world on the right track in combating HIV/AIDS. Campaigns waged by religious groups encouraging young people not to use condoms must be addressed, and the denial of assistance by foreign governments to organisations that provide condoms as a method of HIV/AIDS prevention should also be corrected. Religious beliefs should not be ignored, but neither should the devastating consequences of such misdirected advice.

The cost of AIDS drugs to many in Africa is phenomenal. All too often, western companies charge more per dose in developing nations than in their home nations. I cannot place a price on the cost of a human life—but it appears that many pharmaceutical companies can. I see companies with soaring profits that publish catalogues of their compassion in helping developing nations, but still charge just enough for HIV/AIDS treatment to ensure that their shareholders dividends are kept high. They give with one hand and take away with the other.

The IFF advance purchase scheme could prevent more than 1 million deaths a year. The work by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation and the generosity of the Gates Foundation have helped to secure vaccinations for 50 million children around the world. I am proud to see the £1 billion pledged by this Government to the finance facility for immunisation. That is a real start to addressing the plague of diseases that blight so many countries in Africa, and attention must now be drawn to how we can tackle the damage done by malaria.

Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell's comment that the west is increasingly developing rampant consumerism and a "must have" culture, leading us to huge waste, is correct. Consumerism and the protectionism that is so closely associated with it hold back nations that are struggling to develop. As the Chancellor said yesterday in his speech to UNICEF, we should be opening our markets and removing trade-distorting subsidies. We must more urgently tackle the waste caused by the common agricultural policy by setting a date for the end of export subsidies.

I am confident that through our presidency of the European Union we shall be able to begin to address the issues of agricultural subsidies, and help to combat trade issues which mean that it is cheaper to import rice from America to southern Senegal than to grow it and transport it from the north of Senegal to the south. Big business should not profit at the expense of people and the environment. Greater corporate responsibility must go hand in hand with freer trade. We must end the export dumping that damages the livelihoods of the poorest communities in Africa. We must fight corruption, work to improve the health and education of millions of people in Africa, implement debt relief programmes and investment, and open the markets to provide a truly free-trade environment.

The fruits of this Labour Government's leadership in regard to poverty in Africa are already beginning to show. Even President Bush's comments yesterday reflect the willingness of other nations to listen to my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for International Development. However, I urge those who will attend the G8 summit at Gleneagles next week not to let this opportunity pass. We have been here before. We have seen discussions take place on the need to address poverty and debt relief in which much has been promised and little delivered. I hope that the actions of my right hon. and hon. Friends at DFID in recent years have shown that this time it is different, and we will deliver. I fear, though, that a watered-down result from next week's discussions may harm future attempts to address global poverty, despite the advances that we may make at Gleneagles.

3:51 pm
Photo of John Barrett

John Barrett (Edinburgh West, Liberal Democrat)

It is a great pleasure to follow two Members—the hon. Members for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks)—who represent different parts of Perthshire, where the G8 summit will be held. Apart from the summit, we shall have the Make Poverty History march, which will take place in my own city of Edinburgh, the Live 8 concert, which will be attended by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, and the descent of the potential million forecast by Bob Geldof on the city during the following week.

The summit may constitute one of the most significant meetings ever to take place in Scotland. The decisions and agreements made there will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the future of not just Africa but the entire planet. The G8 nations account for 65 per cent. of global GDP and 47 per cent. of global carbon dioxide emissions. With climate change and Africa dominating next week's G8 agenda, it is no exaggeration to say that those countries, acting together, could make an enormous difference on both issues.

As the Prime Minister said several years ago, Africa remains a scar on the conscience of the world. Despite all the words and all the promises, the scar is far from being healed. For too many years, political leaders have sat on their hands making grand gestures when real action has been required. The G8 summit marks a unique opportunity for the UK to lead the way and broker an agreement to help Africa lift itself out of the extreme poverty that it is experiencing. It is an opportunity that we cannot afford to squander.

It is important to pay tribute to the work of the Make Poverty History campaign, which has been extraordinarily successful in bringing this issue to the forefront of debate in the House and throughout the country. For many years, I have witnessed at first hand in Africa the terrible effect of poverty and also the real potential for the future. Allowing Africa to take control of that future requires meaningful action on our part in three fundamentally important areas: aid, debt and trade.

We must be committed to the principle of fair trade, not just free trade. We must drop the remaining debts that continue to cripple so many African countries, and we need all the G8 countries to make real strides towards meeting the requirements on international aid to achieve the millennium development goals. At the same time, it is crucial that we continue to tackle corruption, and support and encourage the transition to stable democracy throughout Africa.

It is clear that poverty in Africa cannot be eradicated without a major increase in international aid. The millennium development goals require that all countries work toward providing 0.7 per cent. of their national income in aid. The target is both realistic and achievable, but currently only five of the 22 major donors have met it. The UK Government have done well finally to establish a timetable for reaching the target, but 11 donors still have no timetable and many appear to be in no hurry. If current trends continue, Canada will not reach the target until 2025 and Germany will not do so before 2087.

What is more, the sums that rich countries currently invest in tackling global poverty remain embarrassingly small. Even worse, the wealthier that these countries have become, the less they have given. The sad truth is that today, the world's richest countries give half as much, as a proportion of their income, as they did in the 1960s. The Government of the USA, the richest country in the world, spend just 0.1 per cent. of gross domestic product on aid, yet the same Government are able to find twice as much to spend on the war in Iraq as they would need to spend to increase their aid budget to 0.7 per cent. of GDP. I very much hope that the G8 summit will provide the Prime Minister with the opportunity to show the benefits of his special relationship with George Bush by his persuading the USA to commit to those increases.

On top of this, too often the aid and assistance that we have given has been unhelpfully politicised. In recent years, the very goals of development aid have been redefined to suit the new security agenda. For example, in Denmark, Japan and Australia, combating terrorism is now an explicit aim of official aid programmes. It is a question of priorities, and I am afraid that ending poverty in Africa is simply not at the top of that list. In recent years, it has not even been close.

It is clear that poverty in Africa will not be solved by simply throwing money at it. Without a wide-ranging change in how aid is delivered, it will not achieve maximum benefit. Aid needs to focus better on the needs of the poorest, which means more being spent on basic health care and education, for example. Aid should no longer be conditional on recipients promising economic changes such as privatisation or deregulation of services, and the interests of the donor country certainly should not be put above those of the recipient. Currently, almost 30 per cent. of G7 aid is tied to an obligation to buy goods and services from the donor country. That is a truly shameful statistic.

It is worth noting that many countries that we now consider "developed" would not enjoy their current economic status but for their having received substantial amounts of aid. Lest we forget, after the second world war, 16 western European nations—ourselves included—benefited from grants from the USA worth more than $75 billion in today's terms. Those grants underpinned our economic recovery and have helped to create today's climate of peace and prosperity. More recently, EU structural funds have supported growth in Spain and in other southern European countries. Yet even though it has been proven that aid can work effectively, African countries have not yet benefited from the same generosity.

I will not say much on debt, given the Chancellor's recent announcements about increasing the number of countries to be freed from debt, which were welcome. I hope that they will be followed by the announcement of more initiatives in the week ahead. But even if African countries are freed from debt, their situation can only improve with a change in the way that we trade with them. By developing a genuinely liberal and international trade policy, we can enable major opportunities for growth and development in the parts of the world that need it most. Currently, the rules of international trade remain stacked in the favour of the richest and most powerful countries. Opening European markets to the products of the poorest countries would help their economies, and stopping the dumping of subsidised EU food in Africa would help African farmers to become more self-sufficient. These basic acts could do more than aid could possibly hope to achieve. An increase in Africa's share of world exports of just 1 per cent. would be enough to raise the equivalent of more than five times the total amount of aid given to that region.

We are part of the solution, but we are also part of the problem. A timely report published last week by Oxfam and Amnesty International highlighted the extent to which the UK and other G8 countries are exporting arms to many African countries, fuelling poverty, oppression and human rights abuses. The report pointed out that Britain, France and the US have made more money in the past four years from arms exports to Asia, Africa, the middle east and South America than they have offered to those regions in humanitarian aid. This report comes at just the right time to remind us of our role in Africa's plight. Rather than just being spectators to a crisis, in many instances we are playing a leading role.

Poverty in Africa has been created and sustained not merely by chance or nature, but by a combination of factors—injustice in global trade, the huge burden of debt, insufficient and ineffective aid and global warming. They all play their part and each of those factors is determined by human decisions, yet we continue to condemn Africa to a future of poverty through our consistent failure to act on those issues.

We are partly responsible for the continuing plight of much of Africa and we must start living up to that responsibility. We need to recognise that we have a responsibility and a moral obligation to act. A good test of the humanity of a society is how it treats the least privileged—and many of them live in Africa. The eyes of the world are on the G8 next week. We must all ensure that, after everyone has gone home, the momentum is maintained.

We could do worse than follow the example of one of my own constituents, John Mackay, who has launched an organisation called Sailing for Justice. Included in that organisation's project is a non-stop circumnavigation of the world, starting and ending in Scotland and taking the Make Poverty History message around the globe. Through this year and the next, we in the House must, like my constituent, continue our commitment for as long as it takes to make poverty history.

4:01 pm
Photo of Chris McCafferty

Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley, Labour)

I begin by acknowledging the immense progress made on debt relief and poverty eradication through the leadership shown by the Secretary of State for International Development and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in developing pro-poor polices, which can only benefit all developing countries, and particularly the poorest countries in Africa.

I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree that among the major causes of poverty in Africa are poor maternal and child heath, the status of women and HIV/AIDS. I believe that major and sustained interventions in sexual and reproductive health are vital for the future of Africa and are the key to sustainable development there.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the world's poorest place, with 70 per cent. of its people living on less than $2 a day. Fertility is highest in the poorest countries as well as among the poorest people in those societies. It should be no surprise that those same places have the highest levels of unmet need for family planning and reproductive health services. According to the environmental sustainability taskforce, that need, together with health, education and gender equality issues, must be addressed with policies and programmes that will slow population growth and realise synergistic improvements. At a national level, fertility reduction may enable accelerated social and economic development. Conversely, the absence of sexual and reproductive health and rights undermines development.

It is widely recognised that reproductive illness and unintended pregnancies detract from economic development, whether by weakening or killing adults, disrupting and cutting short the lives of their children or placing heavy financial burdens on their families. Sexual and reproductive health and rights also deals with poverty and development in the wider context. The ability to exercise rights and freedoms of choice brings self-determination, which, in turn, has a direct impact on individuals' ability to emerge from poverty.

Sub-Saharan Africa is confronted by continuing high population growth, youthful populations, low contraceptive prevalence, the highest rates of HIV/AIDs and high unmet need for family planning. Poor reproductive health accounts for 40 per cent. of the diseases suffered by women and one in 20 women in Africa die from pregnancy-related causes, in comparison with one in 16 in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, if all the available condoms in Africa were evenly distributed, each man would receive only three or four per year. There is a huge gap between the demand for condoms and the funding available for them.

Of the world's 875 million illiterate adults, two thirds are women. Gender equality is a catalyst for development because women who can plan the timing of their pregnancies and the number of children that they have have greater opportunities for work and education. Empowering people to exercise their rights over fertility and to choose the number and spacing of their children is a very powerful tool in the fight to reduce poverty.

Gender equality is essential for achieving the millennium development goals. It cannot be achieved without guaranteeing the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls.

Seven priorities for action have been identified by the gender and education taskforce in order to achieve gender equality. One of them is ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Specific interventions to address gender inequality should be an intrinsic part of all MDG-based investment packages. There should also be systematic challenges, such as the protection of sexual and reproductive health and rights, including access to information and family planning services.

One African in two are under the age of 20. More than 40 million of Africa's children are not in school, and two thirds of them are girls. Families with fewer children spaced further apart can invest more in each child's education. That, of course, is of particular benefit to girls, as a girl's education may have a significantly lower priority than the education of a boy child in the family.

Children in large families are likely to have reduced health care, and unwanted children are much more likely to die than wanted ones. Our mission in relation to child mortality is clear. Where mothers live, their children are much more likely to live. Where mothers are healthy, their children have a much better chance of being, and staying, healthy.

There are 529,000 maternal deaths each year, and half of them are in Africa. Every day, 1,400 women die from preventable pregnancy-related causes. The child health and maternal health taskforce recommends that an additional target be included for monitoring the fifth of the millennium development goals, which is to achieve universal access to reproductive health service by 2015, through the primary health care system, and to ensure the same rate of progress, or faster, among the poor and other marginalised groups.

More than 17 million Africans have died from AIDS, and another 25 million are infected with the HIV virus. Approximately 1.9 million of those are children. UNAIDS estimates that, this year alone, another 3 million people in sub-Saharan Africa will be infected with HIV.

Our approach to HIV/AIDS should be based on an integrated model of sexual and reproductive health care. The Millennium Project's HIV taskforce stated:

"The fight against HIV/AIDS and the broader struggle for reproductive health should be mutually reinforcing."

National Governments should incorporate universal access to reproductive health and sexual health services and information as an integral part of their AIDS responses.

I am sure hon. Members of all parties would agree that the empowerment of women is a development end in itself. Removing the obstacles to women's exercise of economic and, indeed, political power is also one of the most important ways to end poverty. Reproductive health is a part of an essential package of health care and education. It is a means to the goal of women's empowerment, but it is also a human right. It includes the right to choose the size and spacing of the family. It is by far the easiest and most cost-effective way to help people of all nations out of poverty, and it is essential to ensuring that the millennium development goals are achieved.

It has been said twice already in the debate that we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at the G8 and the summit on the millennium development goals. I know that the Government believe that better reproductive health is crucial to reducing poverty in Africa and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to tell the House in his response to the debate that the Government will push reproductive health and rights in discussions at the G8 and push for their inclusion at the millennium development goals summit in September.

4:10 pm
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Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden, Conservative)

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate. It is also a privilege to follow Chris McCafferty and I congratulate her on selecting an issue on which she has obviously made herself an expert. She focused on that issue and contributed thoughtfully to the debate. I hope that she will excuse me if I do not follow her on that issue.

I am not a rock star, so I do not bring the particular expertise that membership of that profession brings to the economic problems of Africa, but I am one of few MPs—if not the only one—to have devoted the best part of a decade before becoming an MP to working on aid and development projects, mostly in Africa. I hope that I can draw on that experience to contribute to this debate. I worked in countries as diverse as Ethiopia, Zaire, the Republic of the Congo—the former French Congo—Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Cameroon at a time when they were full of hope and enthusiasm and it seemed that the possibility of progress from poverty to prosperity was real. Subsequently, I saw the heartbreaking decline and reversal in many of those countries into deeper poverty, greater disease, conflict and distress. No one is more passionately committed than I am to seeing poverty made history and to seeing the goals of that campaign achieved. I recognise the good faith of those who support that campaign— and especially the Secretary of State in the contribution he made today. I also recognise the genuine support that has welled up in the country as a whole.

However, I hope that I have earned from my past work the right to puncture some of the complacent endorsement that has perhaps been a characteristic of this debate—certainly of the debate outside—of everything that has been done in the name of making poverty history. I am concerned that as well as supporting many genuine and desirable objectives, the campaign could become a vehicle for anti-free trade, anti-free market and anti-globalisation attitudes and policies that, if pursued, would be damaging to Africa, and all too often embody a patronising attitude towards Africans that in some cases borders on racism.

Those anti-free market and often patronising attitudes were prevalent within the aid agencies when I worked for them in Africa many years ago. However, all my experience of working with Africans, who became friends and valued colleagues, convinced me that those attitudes are wrong. Africans have the same number of grey cells as any other race. They have the same desire to better themselves, their families and their communities. They have the same capacity for hard work, ingenuity and enterprise as any other country. It is sad that, for example, the advertisement that appears today in many newspapers has a headline that implies that eight white men in a room in one day can solve the problems of Africa, with the implication that 680 million Africans are effectively relegated to the status of recipients of the largesse, wisdom and power of those eight gentlemen. In my view, that is nonsense and, in my experience, it is incorrect.

I did many studies for the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the UN Industrial Development Organisation, in which I identified a viable project located in a country where its inhabitants were free to invest. In many instances, that project was duly implemented by local entrepreneurs, often before the aid agencies had finished processing the report or the local government had got round to seeing whether it wanted the project to happen or not. Where African people have the freedom in their own countries and the access to foreign markets to prosper, they will take those opportunities, and they will prosper. So our first demand should be to open up access to our markets to African people who want to trade with us and export to us.

I do not know how many people have read the manifesto of Make Poverty History, but I was astonished to find that it contains no call to open up access to the markets of the EU or other developed countries. It rightly calls for an end to export subsidies, which can be damaging in African markets, but rather than attacking the protectionism of western markets, it calls for the right of African countries to protect their own agriculture and farmers.

Obviously, those countries are free to take their own decisions, but I believe that there is hardly anything less designed to be helpful to the elimination of poverty in developing countries than raising the price of food for poor people. If those countries must indulge in protection, let it be on cosmetics and Cadillacs, rather than on anything that makes their food more expensive; but, anyway, our aim should be to open up our markets to Africa's goods.

Making Poverty History's second aim, with which I entirely concur, is to drop the debt. I am proud to have belonged to a Government who wrote off all aid debt to African countries—although we did not make a song and dance about it at the time—thus leaving only Government guaranteed trade and multilateral debt to be dealt with.

Some free-marketeers, who would agree with me in other ways, are suspicious of debt relief. They are mistaken. It is what happens in free markets. If we lend to someone for a project that fails to make a profit and a return, the debt has to be written off. If we lend to someone who, through unwisdom or otherwise, is unable to pay back the loan, we have to write it off. The only reason why there is a problem about debt relief for Africa is that the debts are not free-market debts made freely between someone investing in those countries or lending to those people, but debts that have been guaranteed by Governments or Government agencies.

Some people say that writing off debts will reward corrupt dictators and plutocrats, but let us remember that it is not the corrupt dictators and plutocrats who will pay back those debts, if we insist on their repayment, but the poor peasants and the impoverished people who live in the townships of Africa. Whoever's fault it was that those bad loans were made, it was not the fault of poor people in Africa, and they should not be required to repay their loans. So I entirely endorse the objective of writing off debts that cannot be repaid, but we should not start again down the path of Government-guaranteed debts and Government-channelled lending to those countries. We should encourage private investment and lending wherever possible because that results not only in the better targeting of investment, but in better managed investment and better monitored investment. That brings me to aid.

Where famine, destitution, draught or disaster exists, we have a straightforward humanitarian, Christian obligation to aid those people. There is a good case, too, for giving aid to finance hospitals, schools and the training of teachers, nurses and doctors—rather than the reverse: their training our teachers, nurses and doctors—especially if that aid is delivered directly to the project and audited transparently. But in all my experience, aid that was designed to finance projects of an industrial nature to contribute to development was unnecessary. There was no project that I ever saw that would not have occurred in the absence of subsidies.

In the UK, we have abandoned our belief that we can make ourselves richer by Government subsidising business, picking winners and selecting industries, so why are we so patronising towards Africa as to think that Africans need those outdated methods of industrial development to prosper? They do not. Our role should be to remove the obstacles to their trading in our markets, to lift the burden of debt that hampers them and to help with their humanitarian needs. If we do that, I have faith and confidence that, given good governance, the people of Africa will move from poverty to prosperity; but it will be they who lift the burden of poverty, not eight men in Gleneagles.

4:20 pm
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Hugh Bayley (City of York, Labour)

I congratulate Mr. Lilley on a thoughtful and in some ways provocative speech, but I agree with the provocation; it needs to be said that the private sector has a vital role in the development of Africa. If we protect African countries from private investment or the private sector, we will impoverish them.

I congratulate the Government on making Africa a priority for the G8 and EU presidencies; on giving Africans a voice in developing the agenda that they take to the G8 since more than half the members of the Commission for Africa Africans; and on setting their sights high in the goals that they seek. In the Chamber, we inevitably talk about theoretical constructs, such as aid, trade and debt, but they are means to an end: empowering human beings to live decent lives.

From what has already happened in the preparations for the G8, we know what the summit will deliver. Although it will not achieve the millennium development goals in Africa, it will lift hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty. It will get many, many more children into school, and provide clean water supplies in many villages and towns that would not have obtained them otherwise. The Gleneagles summit will agree the debt write-off that has been mapped out by the G7 Finance Ministers. It will endorse the EU agreement on a timetable for reaching 0.7 per cent. of gross national income for development assistance.

Those decisions would not have been made had it not been for the leadership that our Government have given internationally to prioritise Africa. We shall see real progress on debt and aid at Gleneagles. More will be needed, and I shall be speaking at one of the rallies in Edinburgh demanding more, as will many other people. But there will be insufficient progress at the G8 on trade, so we must see Gleneagles not as a high watermark but as a staging post. We must use the time between now and the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in December to create a political basis internationally for agreement at the WTO.

The main stumbling blocks to a trade agreement are the agricultural subsidies in developed countries, so we in the Chamber should turn our attention from the G8 to the UK presidency of the EU, which starts tomorrow, and talk about what our priorities for our six-month presidency will be. We take over the presidency at a difficult time. The EU is suffering growth pains from enlargement. The European constitution has been rejected by France and the Netherlands in referendums. There is deadlock on the EU budget and the UK rebate. There is high unemployment in many EU member states and a need for economic reform to meet the challenges from emerging economies, but no consensus in the EU on how to deal with those problems.

The problems of the budget, the UK rebate and CAP reform will not go away. The CAP is a barrier to progress at the WTO, and many Members on both sides of the House have said during the debate that trade reform can deliver more towards lifting people out of poverty than more help through aid or debt write-offs.

The UK rebate was negotiated by Margaret Thatcher because it was recognised that the CAP imposes an unjustifiably large burden on the UK. I hope that we can build a cross-party consensus in the UK that if we can get CAP reform, the UK's net contribution to the EU will come down as the cost of the CAP comes down, so the rebate can come down, too. If we can get consensus in the UK on opening up debate about the rebate and the way in which we could allow ourselves to reduce it, we should be able to make progress on CAP reform.

I would like to suggest six planks for the reform of the CAP that our Government could take forward during their presidency. First, we should of course avoid undermining the current reforms such as the decoupling process and the proposals on ending EU export subsidies. The progress that has been made in those fields must be consolidated.

Secondly, the Government should consider relaunching a proposal that the Germans made several years ago to devolve rural policy and spending decisions to member states—I think that the EU jargon is "nationalisation". In other words, the subsidy rules would be agreed at EU level, but the subsidies themselves would be paid from the national budgets in all the 15 original EU member states. I have often wondered why France needs to pay its farmers twice as much in aid as it gives in aid to people in developing countries. If we adopted the nationalisation approach on agricultural subsidies, we would create an incentive for all the EU 15 to reduce subsidies overall.

Thirdly, we need to propose a new EU development mechanism to replace the CAP and structural funds, which would permit budget transfers to be made from richer to poorer states without tying those transfers only to agriculture. We have heard many times that the CAP absorbs 40 per cent. of the EU budget, yet agriculture represents a tiny percentage—less than 5 per cent.—of the EU economy. Such a mechanism would give receiving states greater freedom to set their own development priorities and decide how money should be spent.

Fourthly, we need to set out a realistic timetable for reform. We could introduce the new regime—the end of CAP and the structural funds, and the introduction of the EU development mechanism—in 2010. We could offer to introduce it on the basis of the existing share of contributions as long as we also had an agreement on a transitional period in which we would move from the current mix of contributions to a rational method of burden sharing based on the gross national income per capita of each member state.

Fifthly, as the EU cuts agricultural subsidies, we should refocus those resources on external aid. We could support accession states such as Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey so that they can make the reforms necessary to allow them to join the EU at a future date. The resources could be used to stabilise the "near abroad"—to use the European jargon—of the middle east and north Africa. They could also be used to address the problems of global poverty, especially in Africa.

Sixthly—I stress this point—we need to retain EU control of the subsidy rules at Commission and Parliament level because that would be the only way in which we could reassure the WTO that a downward path of agricultural subsidies would be achieved.

I welcome the strong cross-party agreement that we have seen during the debate. However, if we are really serious about making a difference for the poorest of the poor in Africa, we must reach cross-party consensus on reform of the CAP and on the UK rebate from the EU. We will not get CAP reform unless we move on the rebate.

We need to recognise that negotiating change in the EU budget will require give and take. At the end of the process, the UK will remain a net contributor because we are one of the richest countries, not least because of the economic success of the Labour Government. The contribution that we and other rich member states, such as Germany, France and Italy, make should be structured on a rational basis, relating to gross national income per capita in each country, and not on the anarchic basis of the CAP.

4:30 pm
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Laurence Robertson (Shadow Minister, Northern Ireland; Tewkesbury, Conservative)

I pay tribute to Mark Durkan, who made an outstanding speech. It is a privilege to work with him in my day job, as it were, as a shadow Minister for Northern Ireland. I look forward to working with him in the House for many years.

I welcome the debate and the high profile that international development has these days. I am happy to pay tribute to the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer for working hard towards the goals that we all share, not least on the Conservative Front Bench. I join those who paid tribute to my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell, who made an outstanding speech.

I want to touch on three issues. There is a campaign with the slogan "trade not aid", but we need both trade and aid. We need to improve the trade prospects of third world countries. Having visited a number of them—twice to Ethiopia, once to Rwanda and once to Kenya—I have seen the depths of poverty there. To suggest—although no hon. Member has—that those countries can leap forward as quickly as they need to do simply because we remove tariff barriers or subsidies is fantasy. When one walks through streets and sees people huddled together, banging pieces of tin with bricks to make something to sell, one realises that they have a long way to go before they can compete in the markets that should rightly be open to them. I am not saying that we should not remove trade barriers or subsidies, because we certainly should, but we also need to do much more to help those countries progress.

On a recent visit to Ethiopia, I visited a hospital where the surgeon was an 80-year-old lady who was doing a fantastic job, but in the countryside I saw the true meaning of a hospital queue, with people physically sitting outside the hospital. We saw that people live in a space no bigger than the Table in the Chamber, and it has to accommodate 10 or 12 people or families and their animals. We also saw girls who spend their entire lives walking to collect water. That made us realise how much we need to do to enable those countries to compete. We must remember that we have to provide development aid in particular to them, as well as humanitarian aid, which is provided in response to disasters. As well as removing trade barriers, we need to do our utmost to persuade the supermarkets, which have enormous power, to buy more goods from the third world and to have them correctly labelled so that consumers can choose to contribute to the development of third world countries in that way.

Although it is important to give money to good Governments, we have to remember that people who live in countries that are corrupt or at war are probably in greater need than those who live in countries without those problems. It is more difficult to deliver aid in those circumstances, but it is even more important to do so and to find a way to do so. That is best done through non-governmental organisations. I pay tribute to the aid workers on the ground. I have seen the jobs that they do. They risk their lives, are away from their families and live in appalling conditions to save the lives of the people in those countries. I want to place on the record my appreciation for their work. It is important to recognise the value of their enthusiasm.

Ann McKechin spoke earlier about our visit to Rwanda, where we walked through the bones and skulls of people who had been massacred in the genocide. Strangely enough, what made me feel worse was our visit to the trials, where we saw quite ordinary-looking people who had hacked others to death. We wondered whether the situation could ever be sorted out, or whether we were just wasting our time. Gradually, however, we realised that the fact that those ordinary-looking people had done that kind of thing was a reason to help. That is also what motivates the people who work on the ground in those countries.

I think that I shall be the lone voice speaking in support of Ethiopia today. We have heard a number of criticisms of the Ethiopian Government, and I share the concerns about the situation that led to 20 people being killed there, and about the people who are being held without charge for demonstrating. I shall certainly do my little bit to persuade the Government there to bring about a speedy conclusion to that situation. I must point out, however, that only about 14 years ago, Ethiopia was in the grip of a Marxist Government. Recent elections there were observed by 300 international observers, there has been an economic growth rate of about 5 per cent., and more and more children go to school these days. The Ethiopian Government have also initiated a resettlement programme. Although quite crude, it is trying to bring people from the non-fertile areas, which are desperately poor, into areas in which they might be able to grow and have access to food.

The Ethiopian Government are doing everything that they can. I understand the Secretary of State's decision to suspend the increase in aid to Ethiopia—I have discussed the matter with him—but I would ask him to keep in close touch with the Ethiopian Prime Minister. I know from our discussions that he will. As I said earlier, the poorer a country is, the more help it needs. We have to accept that this is Africa, for goodness' sake, and we cannot judge Africa by our own standards. We have our own problems with electoral systems in this country, and if we are going to say that anyone who does not have a perfect Government and a perfect country cannot have aid, I suggest that we are missing the point.

I know that the Secretary of State will keep a close watch on what is happening in Ethiopia, with a view to continuing to increase the aid. I commend the Government for having done so in the past, and I hope that we shall be able to resume providing Ethiopia with the help that it needs. It is a desperately poor country, and it really needs our help. The blind children and the crippled children on the streets are the ones who need help, not the Ethiopian Government. I urge the House to have some tolerance for what is going on in Ethiopia and to recognise the real progress that it has made.

4:38 pm
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John Robertson (Glasgow North West, Labour)

May I start by congratulating Mark Durkan on one of the best maiden speeches that I have heard? I look forward to hearing more from him in the future. I also want to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on one of the best Front-Bench speeches that I have heard in the nearly five years that I have been here.

Much attention has understandably focused on the steps that the leaders of the G8 can take when they meet at Gleneagles this weekend. Today, however, I want briefly to mention an issue that will be largely unaffected by the decisions taken at the summit, but which I hope will not be forgotten. Poverty is not a problem that we associate with one of Africa's richest countries, and certainly not with one of its oil-rich regions. Up to 2 million barrels of oil a day are pumped from the Niger delta's swamps. They provide Nigeria with 80 per cent. of its revenues and 98 per cent. of its exports. However, most ordinary Nigerians do not see the benefit of this wealth. Seven out of 10 Nigerians live on less than $1 a day. The disparity is particularly pronounced in the Niger delta, where much of the wealth comes from, and I shall explain why that is the case and what can be done.

Oil is a mixed blessing. It provides great wealth, but it has troubling consequences. In the Gulf states, for example, it provides regimes with so much money that they do not have to levy significant taxes on the population. Great, one might think, but it means that leaders can operate without representative government, so they do not pay any attention to the needs and wishes of their people. In the Niger delta, since the 1970s, revenues amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars have been grabbed by central Government and local politicians, and have been largely wasted. Since President Obasanjo came to power in 1999, the country has experienced greater stability. He took steps to rein in the politicised army, but the situation remains fragile. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that the Paris club had reached agreement on Nigeria's debt, which is welcome news. Like my hon. Friend Ann McKechin, I would be grateful to know how much debt relief will be provided.

The Nigerian Government need to do much more to provide a stable basis for the delta. They must guarantee that the 2007 elections will be free and fair; otherwise no amount of work by non-governmental organisations or foreign Governments will bring peace and prosperity to the region. There will be primary elections next year, but the country has the capacity to explode into civil war. The 2006 primaries will draw attention to local areas such as the Niger delta, where there is extreme violence. Ethnic and religious strife threatens to overwhelm any future development. Rival militias in the delta have cost hundreds of lives since 2003 and caused tens of thousands of people to flee their homes. What chance is there for people to escape poverty when they do not even have secure shelter? Indeed, the militias are exploiting poverty. One particularly sinister leader, Mujahid Dobuko-Asari, is posing as a champion of the oppressed. He demands a greater part of the oil profits for his Ijaw tribe, but in practice he causes mayhem. According to Human Rights Watch, the police do not have the firepower to take on the militia, so Mr. Asari takes in the jobless youngsters of the delta, obtains weapons which are more sophisticated than those carried by the police, and talks of an "armed struggle".

Militias and their fighters have made attacks on the oil industry, and many have dubious roles as private security contractors. With the state unable to guarantee security, what are the oil companies to do? Should they make unorthodox payments to those so-called contractors, or should they wait for their production to be stopped by violence? The people of the Niger delta need security and a stronger state if development is to progress. As well as working on aid and debt, the British Government and others must work with the Nigerian Government to ensure that the rule of law returns to the Niger delta. If the rule of law is restored, there is a chance that the billions of dollars worth of wealth created in the Niger delta will spread to the rest of Nigeria, so that the 70 per cent. of the population who live on less than $1 a day can perhaps earn more money.

Earlier this year, our former colleague Bill Tynan was instrumental in setting up the all-party parliamentary group on the Niger Delta. Following Bill's retirement, I have taken over the group's chairmanship. I pay tribute to Bill's dedication in setting up the group, and I am grateful for his advice on the subject. In fact, he still advises me and has done so this week, even though he is on holiday in Spain. The Niger delta group is making good progress. On 16 June, we held our annual general meeting, which was attended by representatives from Shell, communities in the delta, and a researcher who has been investigating the region's problems and reported to the group at first hand. In the past few weeks more than 30 MPs have joined the group, and Lord Jenkin, who is a vice-chair, is taking up the baton in the other place.

In a few weeks I shall be leading a delegation to the delta in order to assess the situation on the ground. We will meet representatives of the Government and the oil companies, as well as many ordinary people who live in the area. In advance of the trip we will be in close touch with the Foreign Office. I have already had a short discussion with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, and I know that he is looking forward to me briefing him on my return from the delta. I look forward to doing so.

I know that other Members want to speak and raise a range of important issues relating to poverty throughout Africa, so I shall not detain the House any longer than necessary. A Labour Member does not usually have the opportunity to slow up Opposition Members who want to speak, but in this case I will give up some of my time to allow them to speak on a subject on which there is cross-party agreement.

With Nigeria's great potential, including its wealth and resources, it is a natural candidate to leave the way in the development of Africa. I have outlined a few of the serious challenges that stand in the way. As the Minister for Trade and Investment said, if Nigeria does not meet its millennium development goals, Africa cannot meet them. That is why we must work with the people of Nigeria. I urge my right hon. Friend to do everything he can, and I know he will, to help make the Niger delta prosperous and to expand its wealth to the rest of Nigeria and, hopefully, point the way in democracy for the rest of Africa.

4:46 pm
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John Bercow (Buckingham, Conservative)

It is a privilege to follow John Robertson, who as ever spoke with sincerity, experience and knowledge. Moreover, I endorse wholeheartedly the tribute that he and others have paid to Mark Durkan, who delivered a moving and memorable maiden speech of which he should be justly proud.

Let us be clear that aid, trade and debt relief are necessary but not sufficient conditions of African development. The Secretary of State knows the high esteem in which I hold him. It was a privilege to shadow him, and I can tell him that the Bierton combined school, to whose Make Poverty History assembly I had the privilege of speaking on Monday, made it clear that it wanted its support for the agenda to be taken forward at Gleneagles.

There is a fundamental weakness in the trinity of aid, trade and debt relief unless there are additions to it—that is, that that invaluable package does not stop genocide. Genocide is the source of poverty, and stopping genocide requires the establishment or re-establishment of security. In the time available I shall focus my remarks specifically and narrowly on Darfur, western Sudan, which I had the privilege and also the harrowing experience of visiting twice in the past 12 months. In reflecting upon the tragedy and the savagery there, let us remind ourselves of the legal position.

Deprivation of access to food and medicine is a crime against humanity under article 2(b) of the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court. Deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to destroy a group in whole or in part is a form of genocide under article 2(c) of the United Nations genocide convention. My contention is that the cocktail of barbarity that has been unleashed and continues to be visited upon the people of Darfur is almost certainly an act of genocide. There has been and continues to be prolonged suffering in the region.

Look at the facts. Consult the World Food Programme. The position is clear. Over 3 million people are dependent on food aid. Already, no fewer than 3,200 villages have been deliberately burned. It is estimated that some 2 million people have been internally displaced, and we should not forget that no fewer than 200,000 people have fled in terror from the Government and from the Arab militias over the border into Chad. That is the continuing reality of the situation in Darfur, although the issue is not nearly as prominent in the news media as it was only a few months ago.

It saddens and horrifies me when I hear it said that there is "a semblance of calm" or "relative normality", or that "the situation has stabilised". I do not doubt the Secretary of State's sincere and determined intention to do what he can to tackle the situation, but there is no real calm at all. Look at what has happened. Much of the bombing has already taken place, and if the Antonovs are raining down bombs rather less frequently than they were, it is because much of the job has been done, so the necessity for continued and remorseless aggression from the air no longer exists. The bulk of the ethnic cleansing has already taken place.

Above all, as we pontificate on the future of Africa, we should listen to the verdict of the UN's under-secretary for humanitarian affairs, Jan Egelund, who is the head honcho in the field. On 21 June, which is only nine days ago, he said:

"we have regressed. More and more women are being attacked, younger and yet younger children are victims of these atrocities . . . It is a vicious racial issue."

Although I applaud the contributions from the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell, it is necessary to puncture the complacency of the debate to highlight the difference between our aspirations for the future and our conduct of the present.

In truth, the international community is not doing the maximum that could be done. The Secretary of State is responsible for humanitarian assistance, and he is brilliant at it. He is the best Secretary of State for International Development since Clare Short, who, in her different way, exemplified the values that must be progressed if we are to secure advances in Africa. The Secretary of State is brilliant at his job, but we need joined-up government here and within the multilateral institutions of the European Union and, in particular, of the UN. The fact is—I know that this is sad and brutal, and it is no doubt undiplomatic to say it—that the international community does not care enough about the continued and deliberate slaughter of tens of thousands of black Africans in Darfur, for if it did, it would not sit on its hands.

So far, we have seen a half-hearted intervention to which there are three significant downsides. First, the straightforward moral reality is that the international community has abdicated and continues to shirk its responsibility to the suffering citizens of Darfur. Secondly, there are the financial implications. Whoever else we seek to deceive, let us not deceive ourselves—the longer we wait and the less we do, the greater the burden and the bigger the cost when the day of reckoning comes. We do not have to consult the crystal ball, because we can look in the book of the historical experience and tragedy of Rwanda, where the eventual cost of reconstruction was $4.5 billion because the international community pitifully and pathetically neglected the situation. I greatly admired the Prime Minister for saying to the 2001 Labour party conference that if ever there were a comparable situation again, Britain and the international community would have a moral duty to act. There is and we have.

Thirdly, many tributes have been paid to the African Union. There are some 3,320 personnel in Darfur, of whom, on the latest reckoning, about 2,055 are troops on the ground. Even if the force increases to 7,700 soldiers, as the Secretary of State has said today and articulated at yesterday's International Development questions, the likelihood is that their remit will simply be to protect people in the camps for internally displaced persons. What that means is that each soldier will be responsible for the protection of no fewer than 305 people.

This is a slow-burn, grisly, despicable and, from the vantage point of the international community, shameful genocide that we are allowing to be perpetrated on our watch. What we need to do instead is to seek ceaselessly until we obtain a chapter VII United Nations peace enforcement mandate. It is no good talking about peacekeeping. There is no peace settlement—there is a temporary and fragile ceasefire honoured more often in the breach than in the observance. We probably need a force of 25,000 people to go to Darfur to protect civilians and to offer a better prospect of peace and security, which is the indispensable precondition of the recovery of the people and the beginning of the fight against poverty in western Sudan.

The people of Darfur have suffered too much for too long with too little done about it. I am ashamed of that, and I hope that other right hon. and hon. Members are ashamed of it. I appeal to the Secretary of State to use his good offices to pressurise the Foreign Office, to work together, and to use the moral force that still exists, admittedly in diminished form, with the Prime Minister, to argue for a robust, concerted and effective approach at multilateral level. That is what is needed; nothing less will do.

4:56 pm
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David Anderson (Blaydon, Labour)

I thank John Bercow for giving me such an easy act to follow—I don't think.

This House has a proud history of fighting for social and economic justice, and today we have the chance to write another chapter in that history. We must support the Make Poverty History campaign for trade justice, full debt cancellation and more and better aid. As Tony Baldry said, if we can do it on the basis of consensus, then so much the better. It is a disgrace that in 2005 the world's poorest countries are still forced to pay millions of pounds a year to the rich world in debt repayments. It is a further disgrace that rich countries agreed to give 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic product as long ago as 1970, yet so far only five countries have managed to reach that target. It is a disgrace that sadly our Government and our country are yet not one of them. It is an injustice that the poorest 49 countries on this planet make up 10 per cent. of the world's population but their share of international trade is under 0.5 per cent.

Nearly 500 trade unions, campaign organisations, development agencies and faith groups in the United Kingdom have come together in an unprecedented coalition to say to us and to our Government that it is time to bring about progress on trade, aid and debt. The people are not just with us on this—they are ahead of us.

This year is a unique opportunity. Our Government have the presidency of the G8 and the EU. It is only 10 years until the world is meant to meet the millennium development goals. Poverty is supposed to be halved by 2015, yet it is 20 long years since the world called for change at Live Aid. Today, we must persuade the world to choose the right policies on trade, aid and debt. We really do have a chance, if we choose, to make poverty history.

Late last year, I had the privilege of leading a delegation of public service workers to a conference in Johannesburg organised by my trade union, Unison, where 70 delegates from 10 southern African countries met to plan their response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic that is sweeping sub-Saharan Africa. The whole conference was paid for by Unison. It was money well spent on behalf of ordinary men and women—people who, as Mark Durkan said, had quite likely been killing each other previously, but had decided, in southern Africa as in Northern Ireland, that the only way to achieve genuine reconciliation is to work together.

Workers came from Angola, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mauritius, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and South Africa. They worked in different public services, under different political regimes, and faced different cultural systems. Three things united them, however. They all wanted to deliver world-class public services for their people. They all wanted to develop a role for working people and their organisations to beat the pandemic of HIV/AIDS. Most crucially, they realised that the key driver of the pandemic is poverty. It is a poverty that does not cause AIDS but helps to spread it. It is a poverty that makes people live in houses unfit for animals. It denies human beings the right to good, clean water. It prevents men, women and children from being properly educated. It breeds on ignorance and allows cultural exploitation, especially of women and young girls. Above all, it is a poverty that does not have to exist, which is what we should be arguing.

We live in a world that spends more on obesity, erectile dysfunction and pet medicines than on the so-called neglected diseases of Africa. We live in a world in which the most powerful nation tells the weakest ones that the real cure for AIDS is abstention. What an attitude—when all else has fallen around one, even the comfort of the person one loves would be denied by those of us in the west who know better. We also live in a world in which more money is spent on protecting the monopoly of drug corporations than on alleviating the needs of sick and dying children. That must be wrong.

There is a shift in attitude and in world opinion. Employers in southern Africa have realised that HIV/AIDS is their business as well as the workers' business. If workers are sick, dying or off work because they are burying their relatives, they are not producing the goods for their employers. That might be sustained for a while, but not when millions are sick and dying, and definitely not when, as in the case of Africa, more than 70 per cent. of those with HIV/AIDS are in the work force.

For example, mining companies have come to realise that it is ridiculous to retrain, employ and recruit people and then see them fall away from the work force. They are therefore implementing programmes that help people to take time away from work. They are introducing sex education lessons. It is sad that in much of southern Africa, public services are not reflecting the work that private companies are doing—that comes from someone who does not often sing the praises of private services over public ones.

The resolution of the situation is a win-win for all of us. It is not just a way for us to be do-gooders and spread largesse. If we do not attack poverty, its causes and its symptoms, we all become weaker in every way. That is why the events of this coming period are so important.

Most of us in the Chamber probably came into politics to change the world. Before too long, we realised that we had problems changing our socks. Now is our chance—our generation's chance. Many of us are diametrically opposed to other parties in this place, and sometimes even to our own. Many of us have concerns about our relationships with various nations on this issue. My advice is simple. For this period, let us put aside our differences and unite with each other. Let us follow the lead that the people of our country and the world are giving us. Let us say enough is enough. Let us accept our responsibility. Let us acknowledge that poverty is not inevitable. Let us believe that poverty is a human creation that humans can change. Let us put our money where the starving mouths of the world are. Let us make a difference. For once, let us make our kids proud of us. Let us make poverty history, and let us do it now.

5:03 pm
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James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East, Conservative)

If the good people of Rochford and Southend, East had not elected me to this place, I would be returning to Africa. I want to talk a little about my experiences of business in Africa, because I believe that business and free trade are more likely to alleviate poverty than any other activity.

In the early 1990s, I was working in the City of London, and I told my employers at my annual appraisal that I was bored. They said, "Well, why don't you take this job in Swaziland?" I did not really know the continent, and certainly did not know where Swaziland was, but I took up that opportunity. Initially, I felt guilty sat behind a desk, because in my mind, at that time, compassionate people in Africa were aid workers, who dug ditches and, in many ways, lived in poverty themselves. Now, however, I know that Africa needs business men and bankers, specialists, financial markets and advisers. A colleague of mine who went out to Africa a few years before me set up a local stock exchange in Botswana, and went on to generate an awful lot of wealth for that country.

As a banker I was called many things, and I am sure that I shall be called worse things as a politician—but at the bank I saw that although many people look on bankers in a negative way, we lubricated the economy, allowing speedier development and, ultimately, less poverty. I went on to work in the Ivory Coast for a Belgian bank, and in Botswana for a British bank. Indeed, I met my wife in Swaziland.

In my experience, we need free trade and free elections—in that order. However, the term "fair trade" concerns me. It highlights inequalities in trade, and it is right to do so, but Governments should not decide what is fair, markets should—and the African marketplace is no different from any other.

I have a number of clients involved with the sugar industry, and I have visited sugar factories in communities across Swaziland and Uganda. The factories tend to be in remote locations; the lucky ones get jobs there, but there is certainly a lot of poverty, particularly with seasonal workers. It makes me feel sick to think of the subsidies that the first world gives out within the sugar industry. It is duplicitous to take with one hand and give with the other, and then ask for praise for doing that. The sooner we abandon the common agricultural policy and have genuinely free trade among nation states, the better.

I also want to mention some concerns about some of the charitable works carried out for Africa's benefit in the United Kingdom. All too often we paint Africa in the worst possible light, to solicit donations and activity. I am concerned that events such as Live 8 and the events that preceded it pigeonhole Africa and Africans. The countries in which I have lived and worked have been poor, but there has been enormous spirit there—in many ways a greater spirit than we sometimes see in the United Kingdom. There is also more entrepreneurship, with people selling produce and so on, and a positive spirit. We need to reflect that positive view of Africa, too.

Africa is also rich in resources, such as oil, diamonds and fertile land in places such as Zimbabwe. It used to be said that Zimbabwe could feed the African nation, yet look where we are now.

I also want to comment on the HIV/AIDS pandemic—not on the social side of the problem but on the economic development element. In Botswana I managed 750 staff, one third of whom either had full-blown AIDS or were HIV positive. As well as creating a medical problem and a social problem for the families, that has an enormous impact on business in the country, with massive numbers of people being employed to cover for those who are too sick, when the drugs are not working. That in turn has a knock-on effect on poverty within a country.

The intellectual capital of the nation is dying prematurely. One third of the staff who worked for me were affected, but among the graduates coming out of the university the proportion was much higher—so literally, the future of the nation was dying.

We would all have a problem imagining what would happen if we were diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, but imagine one third of all people in this country being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. Imagine the impact that that has on the psychology of the whole nation.

I want to be brief, so I shall draw my comments to a close, and I want to end on a positive note. I believe that Africa does not have to deteriorate. The continent is not doomed to failure. Friends and colleagues with whom I have worked across Africa are strong and resourceful people, in what can often be a land of plenty. I believe that as politicians, we need to help them establish free trade and free elections—and the rest will follow.

5:09 pm
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Celia Barlow (Hove, Labour)

We have come a long way since the days when our nation's aid policy was little more than a tool for big business assisting market penetration and furthering the reaches of our commerce, but hastening the decline of African nations into further poverty and helplessness. Such short-termism led the 1980s to be called the lost decade by those working for Africa's development. I am glad that this Government have given much time to correcting such injustices since coming to power in 1997.

Thanks to our first years in power, policies that led to events such as the Pergau dam affair have been legislated against. That has increased the effectiveness and benefits of our assistance to poor countries. Today we stand at the cusp of another landmark in our effort to support the people of Africa. The radical proposals to offer debt relief, increased spending on aid and enhanced access to the world's trading systems for poor countries, as outlined to the House in recent days by the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for International Development, have my wholehearted support.

Before I describe my concerns and ambitions with regard to Africa policy, I want to emphasise just how significant this country's contribution to international development has been in recent years. As my hon. Friend Mark Durkan said in his eloquent maiden speech, it will be a fine achievement when our spending on aid reaches the UN target figure of 0.7 per cent. of GNP, but we shall then join a select group of only five nations.

Our policy directives that cut conditionality, encourage spending on health and education and eradicate the hypocrisy of tied aid have placed Britain at the forefront of development practice, and should be a source of great pride to the people of our country. However, as the campaign to make poverty history reaches its climax, having successfully mobilised a whole nation, we must stress that what will be achieved at this year's great conferences will be but one milestone on an extremely long road. Significant though it is and painstaking though the work involved has been, we must all prepare ourselves and our constituents for the fact that many more victories will need to be won before the people of Africa unlock the potential of their great continent. History may well recall this year as the turning point in Africa's renaissance, but it is our job, in the here and now, to look forward and see just how our assistance may be put to best use.

First, I want to raise an issue involving the two leading African institutions, the African Union and NEPAD, the New Partnership for Africa's Development. The Commission for Africa's report repeatedly stresses the importance of those institutions as arbiters of aid and good governance for the region. I wholeheartedly support that sentiment, but I would like the possibility of strengthening and reforming those institutions to be investigated, so that they could be better equipped for the challenges ahead.

It is with regret that I point out the failure of those institutions to deal adequately with the situations that they faced in Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast and Sudan. On each occasion, intervention by northern powers was eventually needed, and often occurred regrettably late owing to the failure of the African Union to deal decisively with what was happening. Today we mourn the suffering of ordinary Zimbabwean people at the hands of their country's pernicious dictator, a situation on which the African Union seems unable or unwilling to act. If the African Union is fully to earn the trust of us donors, it must demonstrate time and again to the people whom it serves that it is willing to fight for social justice and good governance.

A lesson that we Europeans have learned recently is that transcontinental union must fully serve the needs of every citizen, not just its political elite, if the trust of citizens is to be bestowed on it. We should not shy from a reform agenda in our Africa policies. That would be perfectly in keeping with the philosophy of a Government who have offered investment in return for reform in many domestic policies since coming to power.

There are many links in the chain leading from Government assistance to application in the field. Often the weakest link is the last, where aid money is actually spent and distributed among the grass roots. There are several reasons for that, one of which is the difficulty in finding lots of field workers with the capacity and skills required to do such a difficult job well. Another is the challenge of working in communities that often lack the infrastructure and representative leadership through which to work. We must therefore focus much of our attention on ensuring that those administering our aid budget in the field are fully trained and supported, and on ensuring that the community structures and representation are in place to make the link between aid worker and community seamless.

The increasing role of non-governmental organisations has changed the nature of aid in recent years. At their best, NGOs can form a bond with local communities that would be impossible for national and multinational donors to achieve, and they can offer an extremely efficient solution to developmental challenges. But we must also accept that poor practice exists, and now that we are increasing funding to Africa so dramatically, public and media scrutiny of NGO activity will surely be heightened.

I want to see an increase in the independent monitoring of all development work, including NGO activity in Africa. The fact remains that many of the communities in which aid work is carried out are poorly educated, poorly connected and poorly represented. They are communities without a voice, and as such they are rarely in a position to speak out when poor practice occurs. Due to the competitive funding process, it is a rarity for organisations to admit failure voluntarily, which is a shame, because the developmental sector would benefit tremendously from greater sharing of information and from the shared learning of experience.

It would be a great sadness if the public were to become disheartened or cynical about assistance to Africa. That is why we need to be honest about the challenges of working there, to be honest about the time that it will take to achieve success, and to do all that we can to promote transparency in the aid process—from top to bottom. For the first time in a generation, there is real cause for optimism among those of us who care about Africa's future and its people, cultures and ecology. If we fail in our endeavours this year, the opportunity could well be lost for yet another generation. We cannot let this happen. It would be unforgivable.

5:17 pm
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Jeremy Hunt (South West Surrey, Conservative)

I have listened to this afternoon's debate with great interest. I agree with Mr. Anderson that we should not be ashamed if there is consensus on this issue. If we really are going to make poverty history, we need to combine a concern for poverty with an understanding of wealth creation. We need practical compassion and economic realism.

When one first sees poverty in Africa, one changes. I first experienced it just 18 months ago, although I should point out that I have much less knowledge of this issue than does my hon. Friend James Duddridge. Like many other people, I have been sponsoring an HIV-positive child. I went to visit her—she was then 14 years old—and unfortunately, her situation was not unique: I have since discovered that 700,000 children are born with, or infected with, HIV every year. When she was a baby, her father died from AIDS. When she was five, she saw her mother die; she was not supposed to—she peeked through a crack in a hospital door. After that, she was sent to an orphanage, which in those days was more of a hospice; it had no money for antiretroviral medicines. Shortly after she arrived there, her best friend died. She would have gone the same way, too, but for the modern miracle of antiretroviral medicines.

Taking such medicines enables sufferers to become practically fully healthy again. They can go to school and to church; they can joke and participate in games. When they get older they can marry; they can even have children who are not HIV-positive. Fortunately, all the children in that particular orphanage have the proper medication, but it is much more difficult to address the problem in the slums of Africa. For the programmes to work, we need regular testing. In addition, the people taking the medicines need proper nutrition and they need medication for more regular ailments.

The biggest slum in Africa is Kibera, where a quarter of Nairobi's population live. Anyone going there is immediately struck by garbage piled up everywhere, and there is only one toilet for every 200 people. I saw a hungry child eating charcoal. Sometimes HIV-positive mothers work, literally until they drop dead, because they have no other source of income for their family. They often become prostitutes, thus spreading the disease further.

I wholeheartedly support the aims of the Make Poverty History campaign, but there is a danger, in what is happening in Edinburgh, of over-simplifying the problem and exaggerating the ease of solving it. Relieving debt, increasing aid and removing trade barriers are part of the solution and represent what we can do, but African Governments must also play their part.

Twenty years ago, the problem of poverty was global; now it is primarily an African problem. We can learn from the countries that have been successful in tackling poverty. Generally, they tackled corruption; they invested in education; most of all, they invested in building up their economic base. Wealth creation is vital for poverty reduction. We should reflect on Japan, which fostered fierce competition between its domestic manufacturers before gradually opening to the world. Hong Kong and China are other examples: they harnessed foreign investment to give them a step up in the expertise needed to run modern businesses and modern economies.

One final ingredient is vital in the fight against poverty. It was identified by Professor David Landes, the Harvard historian, in his book "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations". He tried to examine why some countries were more successful than others in dealing with poverty, but he found that although it was possible to identify factors including climate, religion and culture, none of them were defining characteristics. In the end, he said:

"History tells us that the most successful cures for poverty come from within."

Countries that look for salvation from their own efforts, do not blame others for the problem nor look to others for the solution have generally been the most successful. The disease of helplessness is every bit as damaging as diseases such as AIDS, TB and malaria, because poverty can become a state of mind, not just a state of body.

I conclude by saying that the people will not forgive politicians if the G8 becomes a hollow public relations stunt rather than a real turning-point. Too many countries have eradicated poverty for there to be any excuses from the rich world or the poor. That is why we must match our compassion with clarity, our idealism with realism and our anger with actions.

5:23 pm
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Annette Brooke (Shadow Minister, Education & Skills; Mid Dorset and North Poole, Liberal Democrat)

As chairman and founder of the all-party parliamentary group on microfinance, I should like to make a short contribution on the role of microfinance in helping Africa to fight poverty.

I have been fortunate enough to visit a number of microfinance projects in Ghana. I visited villages in which trust banks of about 20 women were formed. Each woman had her own simple business and working capital was supplied by a group loan. Examples of the businesses included making or mending clothes, making Shea butter or simply buying pots and pans to sell in the local markets. The women supported one another with their enterprises and, amazingly, loan repayments were almost 100 per cent. When I spoke to the women and asked what benefited them most, the first reply was always, "I am able to keep my child at school for longer." Training by local men and women working in the offices of the lending institution also included health education, so there was an add-on of education about HIV/AIDS and an add-on of cleanliness and extra protection.

I also saw individual projects where loans of about £20 to £50 for the first cycle would start a business, and ate in a restaurant where 42 people were employed, although it had started with a tiny loan.

Microfinance institutions develop and go on to be able to accept savings deposits, so that cash can be accumulated for all sorts of future uses or investments. Insurance schemes can be developed, and credit products have been developed for water, sanitation and housing.

As well as NGOs, banks and the private sector play an increasing role in supporting microfinance. It has been clearly demonstrated in many countries that poor people can make use of financial services. A feature of poverty is exclusion from those services, so inclusion is a positive way forward.

Microfinance allows poor people to increase their sources of income. It is an important tool in tackling extreme poverty, but it also helps to support all the other millennium development goals. It is particularly important for the empowerment of women, who gain more assets, acquire choices and become able to make decisions. It offers a sustainable approach to development, helping families to create businesses. Many speakers in the debate have mentioned business and enterprise, and microfinance works by giving people a hand up, rather than a handout.

Current evidence suggests that about 70 million people are being served by microfinance, and it is hoped the goal of 100 million by 2005 will be reached.

The Commission for Africa report recognises the significance of microfinance. It states:

"Small enterprises cannot grow in isolation and need access to a range of financial and non-financial services to take advantage of market opportunities."

Lack of access to credit is recognised as a constraint—the number of people without access to bank accounts can be as high as 90 per cent. in some African countries. The report goes on to welcome the renewed focus on all aspects of finance, and to stress how important it is for the successful development of enterprises in Africa.

The all-party group was very proud to have a sub-group nominated as the UK national committee for the UN year of microcredit. This year, 2005, is the special year for microfinance. The members of the sub-group—it really is a sub-group plus—include people from the corporate and academic sectors, as well as representatives from the media and many NGOs. We are very proud of what we have achieved. We launched the year of microcredit at the London stock exchange with Alice Jere, a microfinance client from Zambia.

A number of speeches were made at that event, and Alice spoke alongside the chairman of the stock exchange and the chief executive of a major company. She said:

"My first loan of £20 took me and my family out of poverty, starting with just 50 chicks. I'm now paying for my children's school fees, and have built up my flock to 500 in just four years. I can't tell you how much this microfinance has changed our lives."

The all-party group's early-day motion has been signed by 56 hon. Members, and I want to draw the attention of the Secretary of State to our most important demand. We want the G8 summit to encourage the World Bank, the IMF and the African Development Bank as well as African central banks and finance ministries to give microfinance increased emphasis, given that 2005 is the UN's year of microcredit. Also, the Commission for Africa has called for a focus on providing access to financial services.

Obviously, microfinance is just one tool, but it has a place alongside all the others. I hope that the Prime Minister will raise the importance of microfinance at the G8 summit. I have heard that President Chirac is going to do so: perhaps the two men will be able to reach an accord on this matter.

5:28 pm
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Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire, Conservative)

I know parts of Africa very well. I lived in Zambia, and I taught and was married there. I had many African friends, and some friendships were so close that one family named their daughter after my family. Her name was Cleopatra Dorries Chisoko. Her christening was a great family celebration in the traditional African manner, but unfortunately Cleo, her parents and her siblings are all dead now. I want to concentrate my speech on the blight of AIDS in Africa.

I was last in Zambia in 1985, when the country was populated by a healthy community of 6 million people, who were expected to live to about the age of 60. Now, the population is 34 million, with a life expectancy of 34, and the WHO projects that it will be 24 by 2010. Today, George Bush promised a three-pronged attack on Africa's problems, including funding for malaria, schools and empowering African women. But what is the point of education and empowering women if they are expected to live to an average age of 24?

Africa is beautiful, and has the added advantages of immense agricultural potential and vast mineral wealth. It has locusts on one side and drought on the other, but down the middle to the south coast it has a bread basket capable of feeding the whole of the African continent. Africa has failed not because of the African citizen, but because of a failed civil society that has allowed widespread corruption, excessive urbanisation and a near total collapse of any kind of service designed to ameliorate the condition of the common African man. It is a real crime that we have let that happen.

Do African states with populations the size of two or three UK counties really need international scale airports, state of the art radar systems, helicopter gunships, Mercedes and all the trappings of a grand state? I think not, but that is what aid has been spent on.

I congratulate the Prime Minister on his Commission for Africa and the report "Our Common Interest". It is a worthy document and obviously compiled in good faith. However, the important section is 9.3.2, entitled "Aid: the scope of enhanced effectiveness", which recommends:

"to improve the quality of aid annual discussion should take place between the development ministers of the OECD countries and the African finance ministers along with representatives of civil society and international organisations".

Such future vision is well enough, but does not satisfy the need for immediate action. Do we want thousands of people to die while thousands of others meet to discuss the problem? Minutes of meetings cannot be eaten and they have no effect on viruses.

Without doubt, it is the moral duty of this country to provide all the aid and assistance that we can to Africa. Certain issues can and must be addressed immediately, such as the transmission of the HIV virus from mother to child. Some 2.2 million children are born with HIV and less than 1 per cent. receive treatment. The agony of that fact is that the mother to child transmission can be prevented by the use of antiretroviral drugs during pregnancy. Those drugs should be made available with immediate effect. That is the only way that we can combat AIDS in the future generation. How can a country elevate itself out of poverty when its children are dying? Africa must have the drugs that it needs.

Two medium-sized Indian drug manufacturers recently made an offer to Médecins sans Frontières to provide antiretroviral drugs for Africa at $350 per person a year. In this country, they cost $12,000 to $15,000 a year. On the admission of the Indian drug companies, that would still lead to a healthy profit. Some 28 million people in Africa need drugs, which at that price would cost $9 billion. How much is a life worth?

One of the people who runs those Indian drug companies says:

"I am not a westerner marketing drugs for western markets. I represent the Third World and its needs and aspirations. I also represent the capabilities of a country with a population of a billion. Please do not link up the problems of the Third World and India with those of the West. We haven't broken any laws . . . the main reason for reasonable drug prices in India is the absence of monopoly because of the Patents Act 1970."

If the Indian continent, which is as poor as Africa, can produce drugs at cost price for its people, why cannot that happen in Africa? Why could not Africa operate outside the drugs patent and produce drugs for its people? The operation could be controlled and administered by NGOs.

I do not have much time left, so I shall cut my remarks short. We have all received the report by the Commission for Africa, which talks of power partnerships, comprehensive strategies and professional leadership incentives. What do the people who wrote that report think those words mean to someone lying in hospital under a blanket? Are those words an epitaph for the Chisoko family? We have all heard the words "Hakuna matata" from the Disney film. Where I lived in Zambia, the phrase was "Aziko ndaba". Those words are a tribute to the African people, who spend their lives saying, "No worries, no problems." Those words have been consigned to a Disney film now, because I doubt that anybody in Africa any longer says "Aziko ndaba".

5:34 pm
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Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East, Conservative)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate. Although time is running short, I should like to relate the experiences that I gained when I served in the military forces in a number of war zones to the subjects covered today. Debt write-off, investment and improved trade will certainly help a number of countries, but many of the countries that I visited have been at war for 50 years, and we need to go back to the heart of the problem, which was caused when those countries were created in the first place or, indeed, when Europe entered Africa and decided to carve up the continent.

We forget that between the 12th and the 16th centuries, which are often considered to be Africa's most historic centuries, kingdoms were created and democracies existed, even if in basic form, and there was certainly a hierarchy of power and a basic form of government. I appreciate that we are more familiar with the slave trade and so on, how the economy changed and how African empires were eroded.

My view is that the Berlin conference changed the lines on the map, as European states laid claim to the continent with little regard to historical borders or boundaries or the religious groupings and varying customs and languages that already existed. The world wars blurred those lines as well. In some instances, there is a fundamental case for reviewing the borders so that they better represent the geographical areas that unite separate religions, traditions and manageable democracies. As foreign pressures were lifted in the 1960s, when those countries became independent, all the community and regional identities were allowed to grow once again but they were contained or split by the borders that were left behind by Europe.

If we look at other examples around the world, we see something similar. In Afghanistan—it is difficult to see where this will take us—there are Pashtuns, Tajiks and the Uzbeks, all with different identities but confined by one country, yet there is perhaps reason to give them a certain degree of autonomy. Yugoslavia and Bosnia are other examples—as, indeed, is Iraq, with the Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'ites. Czechoslovakia is perhaps the best example of how a country can divide itself into more manageable democracies.

It is worth considering what is the definition of a country and the fact that the extent to which countries are manageable depends on their size, terrain, religions, ethnic groupings, population and the balance of local, regional and national powers. Africa is no different, and I am concerned about those areas that have been engaged in civil war for 50 years. Ethnic tension and religious conflict has not altered simply because of the confines of the boundaries that have been left behind by European powers. Chad, Congo and Sudan are examples of such countries.

I certainly believe that we need to reconsider the borders in Africa itself. Are they appropriate; or do they need review? I am not saying that any western power should walk in there, but I was very much part of the Dayton peace accord, which gave the countries involved the opportunity to sit down and address their concerns, look at the ethnic groupings and then come up with something that would work for them, and what I am suggesting is that that should be an option in addition to the extra aid that we are proposing and the cut in debts and increased trade that is being offered.

I have heard nothing about that suggestion, and it would be interesting to find out whether the G8 would consider it—after all, it was Europe that went into Africa in the first place and drew the original borders with little regard to what was already there—otherwise I am concerned that we will have a similar debate next time Britain has the presidency of the G8 in five years' time.

5:39 pm
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David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, Conservative)

My speech will only take a minute. I want to pass on a message from Steven Nyuon, who came to speak at the 60th anniversary service for Christian Aid held in Dumfries.

Some of the people at the service said that it recognised failure, because Christian Aid was set up in 1945 with many of the same goals for making poverty history that 60 years later have still not been achieved, but Steven, a Sudanese gentleman, gave us hope—the sort of hope that we have heard from others today. He did not say, "Give us money," or "Change the world." He said, "Give us the tools to help us set ourselves free." He gave a simple example: the fishing rods and nets that had been used in his part of Sudan to build businesses and feed people.

That short message, which concludes the Back-Bench contributions, is one of the most important things that we can take from our debate. People can set themselves free if we give them the opportunity to do so.

5:40 pm
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Mark Simmonds (Shadow Minister, International Development; Boston and Skegness, Conservative)

The debate is timely and important, primarily but not exclusively because of the G8 meeting next week, and also because of the UK presidency of the European Union, the millennium development summit in September, and the World Trade Organisation meeting in Hong Kong in December. The year 2005 is vital for Africa. The Trade Justice Movement and Make Poverty History are to be congratulated on keeping the issues at the forefront of the political agenda.

Accepted analysis is that the House is at its best when being confrontational, yet despite its consensual nature the debate has been informed, intelligent and constructive. The high quality of the debate was begun by the Secretary of State in his excellent opening remarks and continued in the response from my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell, the shadow Secretary of State. Both of them made excellent speeches.

There were other excellent contributions and I shall highlight a few of them. Mark Durkan made an impressive maiden speech which was informed, fluent and passionate. He entwined African and Northern Ireland issues in a skilful way. The whole House will know that he has made significant contributions to peace and progress in Northern Ireland. His personal courage is recognised in all parts of the House. I look forward to further significant contributions from him.

My right hon. Friend Mr. Mackay, in a typically polished contribution, highlighted education and health as important building blocks in alleviating poverty. He also focused on the injustices currently being perpetrated in Zimbabwe, and rightly emphasised the failures of the African Union and South Africa to do more to put pressure on Mugabe to end his tyrannical actions, which damage the rest of Africa, too, especially as significant progress is being made elsewhere on the continent.

My hon. Friend Tony Baldry has tremendous knowledge in this field and admirably chaired the Select Committee on International Development in the last Parliament. He highlighted climate change and conflict, which afflict the poorest communities. The poorest people suffer the most. He rightly highlighted the importance of the interrelationship between those factors.

My right hon. Friend Mr. Lilley made a lucid speech, drawing on his African experience. He rightly highlighted the damage to the alleviation of poverty in Africa that could be done by the anti-free trade movement and the anti-globalisation movement. He highlighted the necessity for us to open our markets in Europe and articulated the failings of the protectionist vision and the necessity to remove obstacles to wealth creation and the encouragement of private investment.

My hon. Friend John Bercow gave a typically articulate and powerful speech, reflecting on the terrible problems that afflict Darfur at present, with passionate and detailed examples. He will be aware that my views on that issue coincide with his. It is a great shame that the international community has not done more; it is attempting to do too little, too late.

It is our long-term objective to ensure that developing African countries graduate from aid dependency to functioning democracies with successful economies. Like the Government, we are committed to working towards the 2013 UN target of spending 0.7 per cent. of national income on aid. It is clear that well-spent aid works, and the best example of that is the eradication of smallpox. British aid, especially, has helped to immunise millions of children against polio.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield rightly highlighted the fact that the quality of aid is just as important as the quantity, so the Government have an obligation to ensure that UK taxpayers' money is spent effectively and transparently. The European Union is currently widely recognised as one of the least effective aid channels because only 52 per cent. of EU overseas development aid goes to low-income countries. My hon. Friend Mr. Robertson rightly raised that point in his thoughtful contribution.

Announcements have been made today on progress made with Nigeria's debt relief, and some of the ongoing issues regarding debt relief were highlighted by Pete Wishart. Before the HIPC initiative, heavily-indebted countries were spending more on debt service than health and education combined, as Mr. Meacher rightly pointed out, although he is sadly no longer in the Chamber.

Money saved through the cancellation of debt must be used effectively to alleviate poverty. Well-managed debt relief has produced many success stories—Uganda and Mozambique are but two recent examples. We support the HIPC initiative and the principle of 100 per cent. cancellation of debts to multilateral institutions. We welcome the debt reduction packages that have been approved for 27 countries. However, responsible lending and borrowing are vital to ensure that there is a sustainable end to the debt crisis. The international credit standing of recipient countries must not be compromised, and future loans must be monitored so that we do not have a cycle of borrowing and debt cancellation.

My hon. Friend James Duddridge rightly highlighted the importance of trade. Although aid and debt relief are necessary, economic development and international trade offer the best hope of long-term sustainable solutions to poverty and suffering in Africa. International trade has lifted up to 500 million people out of poverty in China and south-east Asia. Much of that was achieved through an export-orientated approach that exploited foreign investment to boost local capacity and allow the countries to compete internationally. Not only international trade is needed to maximise the benefits that trade can bring to Africa, but trade in African domestic markets and pan-African trade are needed too.

Sadly, the protectionist trade policies exercised by the US and EU, such as tariff escalation, which undermines private sector development and diversification, have come at the expense of developing countries in Africa. That is nothing short of a disgrace. For example, US cotton subsidies mean that African farmers are competing not against US farmers, but against the US Treasury. Developing countries' agricultural sectors are being crippled because the EU dumps heavily subsidised commodities that are sold at well below the cost of production. EU consumers and taxpayers, via the common agricultural policy, are being forced to finance policies that exacerbate and perpetuate poverty. Current trade restrictions are the biggest impediment to economic advancement and poverty reduction in the developing world.

Some significant bodies believe that infant industry protection and bans on imports into developing countries would help to stimulate their economies, but history is littered with protectionist folly. Import substitution policies insulate local manufacturers and producers from competition, so local consumers consequently pay inflated prices for lower-quality goods while the local industry is unable to sell in international markets. We understand that free trade cannot happen immediately, but we are committed to working towards genuine free and fairer trade for developing countries, especially through the transition period.

My hon. Friend Mr. O'Brien made a knowledgeable speech in which he highlighted the fact that tackling preventable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV and educating and training Africans in health care are essential if we are to end poverty. Disease hinders economic activity. Both my hon. Friend Mr. Hunt, in a moving and intelligent speech, and my hon. Friend Mrs. Dorries, in a powerful contribution that was allied to personal experience, rightly highlighted the necessity to alleviate HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Many hon. Members rightly highlighted the importance of education, as it is the cornerstone for an economically prosperous society. We welcome the progress made so far, in particular the removal of school fees in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, but much more remains to be done.

Historically, African Governments have suffered from a lack of accountability and a lack of institutions to facilitate a pluralistic civil society, as well as endemic corruption. That has led to chronic political instability and regressive economic performance, impoverishing many millions of Africans. Corrupt leadership, combined with a history of human rights abuses, inter-ethnic rivalries and, more recently, the HIV pandemic, have left many parts of Africa lagging behind the rest of the world in creating markets, stable societies, trading and improving the macro and micro-economic well-being of its citizens. The developed world is morally right to, and must, assist, but ultimately the solutions and resolution lie with Africa itself.

5:50 pm
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Gareth Thomas (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development; Harrow West, Labour)

I join Mark Simmonds in paying tribute to all hon. Members who spoke in this excellent debate. In particular, I single out the strong and passionate speech by my right hon. Friend Mr. Clarke. Ministers in the Department for International Development do not have the same opportunities as our colleagues to debate on the Floor of the House new ideas for amendments to UK law. We look forward with relish to 20 January, when he introduces his private Member's Bill, for further discussion of his proposals.

I join hon. Members in paying tribute to the excellent maiden speech of Mark Durkan. We are all aware of his contribution to Northern Irish policies. We look forward to his contributions to domestic politics and, on the basis of his speech, to international debates, too. I also pay tribute to the speech of my hon. Friend Chris McCafferty, who rightly reminded us of the need to continue to focus on sexual and reproductive health issues.

There were equally interesting speeches from Opposition Members. I pay tribute not only to Mr. Mitchell for the way in which he opened the debate, but also to Mr. O'Brien for the way in which he chairs the all-party malaria group. I join others, too, in paying tribute to the excellent work done by Tony Baldry in chairing the Select Committee on International Development, although I confess that I am not sure that I enjoyed appearing before it. I also pay tribute to the continuing eloquence of John Bercow in rightly reminding us of the need to continue to focus international attention on what is going on in the Sudan. On the Liberal Benches, I pay tribute to Annette Brooke for her continued championing of micro-credit issues.

All hon. Members alluded to the fact that Africa is a remarkable continent. It has much to celebrate and is, as my hon. Friend Ann McKechin said, a continent of breathtaking beauty and stunning scenery. It is home and birthplace to great talent and huge ability, from the excellent Haile Gebrselassie—one of the world's greatest athletes—to arguably the most influential and impressive politician of our time, the incomparable Nelson Mandela. However, as all hon. Members also highlighted, it is a continent that remains scarred by terrible poverty and savaged by the scourge of HIV and AIDS, and its development remains inhibited by the legacy of conflict—in some cases, ongoing conflict—by unfair trading rules, by appalling debt and by weak governance.

What is also clear is that Africa deserves our support. For the peoples of a continent to be so disadvantaged in the 21st century is an outrage. That demands, as the Commission for Africa made clear, a big push for Africa now, with rich countries, such as ours, supporting an African-led agenda. The Commission for Africa also made it clear that its principal demand for African Governments is for them to build clean and accountable Governments—a recommendation that we strongly support—while donors must ensure that aid to Africa is doubled, that expenditure on education, health, AIDS and infrastructure is significantly increased, that there is more radical debt relief and trade reform and, indeed, that the international finance facility is launched.

Our job now, as the Prime Minister made clear as president of the G8 and the European Union, is to maintain the momentum of the commission's report, and to help ensure, through the Gleneagles summit next week, the UN summit in September and the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in December, that the international community continues to make an appropriate response. We remain committed to doing our bit.

My right hon. Friend Mr. Meacher highlighted the size of US aid to Africa. He might be interested to know that, almost as he was speaking, President Bush was announcing plans to more than double aid to Africa by 2010, which I am sure that all Members will agree is an important and welcome step that will create real momentum for a successful outcome at Gleneagles. That, combined with commitments from the European Union, Japan and Canada, means that the G8 and EU will more than double aid to Africa by 2010, increasing it by some $25 billion, as called for by the Commission for Africa. That will also put us within reach of our goal of an extra $50 billion a year in total aid for all developing countries.

We shall, of course, continue to work hard right up to the Gleneagles summit for the best possible package for Africa. We are making progress on aid, and on multilateral debt relief. Hon. Members asked me about a particular deal on Nigeria's debt. That deal will see the write-off of approximately $18.6 billion of that country's debt. That again is a significant step in the right direction.

HIV and AIDS are a continuing priority of our presidencies of the G8 and EU. Last year, we set aside some £1.5 billion for HIV and AIDS expenditure—almost a doubling of our commitment. We also announced a doubling of funding to the global fund. We are hosting the global fund replenishment conference in September. In addition to its work on AIDS, the fund is a key vehicle for scaling up our support for tuberculosis and malaria, the other two key poverty diseases facing Africa. I welcome the fact that the number of people in sub-Saharan Africa with access to antiretroviral drugs has trebled in the past 12 months, but, as many hon. Members have said, much more needs to be done to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

We will of course continue to champion improvements in governance by using our aid budget as well as ministerial and diplomatic effort, and by seeking to improve government standards and to consolidate and expand the African peer review mechanism. We want to ensure greater transparency in public revenues, to empower judiciaries, to create more and better free public media and to support the African Union and other key pan-African institutions.

We shall also seek to ensure an ambitious outcome from the Doha development round. We want to agree on a date for the end to export subsidies. The 2003 CAP reform package was a good initial reform package, but, as many hon. Members have rightly said, we need to go further. We are working for an immediate extension of quota-free and duty-free access to all exports from sub-Saharan Africa. We are also working to ensure that restrictive rules of origin do not prevent countries from taking advantage of preference schemes that exist at the moment.

Much has been made of the apparent consensus on these issues, and I, too, welcome the support from the Conservative Front Bench for the Government's objectives at Gleneagles, in New York and in Hong Kong. However, we still remember their halving of the proportion of national income that was spent on development and assistance during the 18 years that they were last in power. We remember their failure to secure meaningful CAP reform. We also remember how many in their ranks did not seem that interested in good governance when apartheid was in full swing. But to mention those things would be churlish, and I am not that sort of politician.

At Gleneagles next week, we shall have a real opportunity to build on the progress that the G8 has already made in confronting the challenges facing Africa and the developing world. Since Birmingham, back in 1998, we have seen considerable progress on debt relief, the launch of the global fund, the polio eradication initiative, the Africa action plan, and the education for all fast-track initiative. All were made possible though G8 support. Already this year we have seen significant commitments on additional resources for aid and debt relief, far beyond what cynics might have predicted this time last year.

Next week presents a huge opportunity for the leaders of the G8 to give a political boost to make the 2005 agenda a great success and to create that big push for Africa on peace and security, on governance, on investing in the basic services on which people depend, on progress on trade, and, we hope, on further commitments on the resources to finance these undertakings. Not only is it morally right to support Africa; ultimately it is in Britain's self-interest. Our humanity, our internationalism and our belief in social justice demand that we respond to the needs of Africa's people. As the Prime Minister said at the launch of the Commission for Africa—

It being Six o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

It being Six o'clock, Madam Deputy Speaker proceeded to put forthwith the Questions relating to Estimates which she was directed to put at that hour, pursuant to Standing Order 55 (1) and (4) (Questions on voting of estimates & c.).